Jacks travel to Fargo to take on top-ranked Bison

Landon Dierks

It’ll be a top three matchup in Fargo this weekend as the No. 1 North Dakota State Bison will play host to the No. 3 South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

The rivalry between the Jackrabbits and the Bison is the longest standing rivalry among current MVFC members. Since 1903, there have been 107 meetings between the two schools. North Dakota State leads the all-time series 60-42-5. 

It’ll be the 15th Dakota Marker game.

The Jackrabbits (2-0) won the rights to the Dakota Marker, a 75-pound replica of the quartzite pillars formerly used to separate North Dakota and South Dakota given to the winner of the annual matchup between the Dakota land grant institutions, for two consecutive years.

“It’s a great rivalry. I won’t have to say anything to get the guys going,” head coach John Stiegelmeier said.

 In 2016, SDSU defeated NDSU 19-17 in Fargo to gain control of the marker for the first time since 2009. When the two teams met in Brookings last November, the Jackrabbits handled the eventual national champion Bison 33-21. 

“The rivalry means a lot to this school and this program,” senior quarterback Taryn Christion said. “To keep that Dakota Marker in the Dykhouse means a lot and we’re aiming to keep it here.”

Christion has been a key player behind SDSU’s offensive success in the last two Dakota Marker matchups, but he insists the numbers are just coincidence and the matchup with NDSU is no different than any other game on the schedule.

“It’s just another week,” Christion said. “I don’t approach it differently. I just happen to have good games when we play [NDSU].”

In his two career regular season victories against the vaunted Bison defense, Christion has thrown for 632 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He added 166 yards and one touchdown on the ground while taking three sacks.

In the lone loss against the Bison, Christion threw for 155 yards and an interception as the Jacks fell 36-10 in the 2016 FCS Playoff Quaterfinals. 

NDSU head coach Chris Klieman is aware of what the SDSU offense can do with the football.

“We have to do a really good job of not giving [Christion] an easy pre-snap picture,” Klieman said in his weekly press conference. “Because if you do, he’s a really talented guy that’s going to pick you apart.”

Getting Christion and the offense going early will be important in Saturday’s game.

“I think [moving the ball early] adds to the confidence of the football team,” Stiegelmeier said “Two years ago we got them going up and down the field and had to win on the last play of the game, so the bottom line is staying focused for 60 minutes.”

Last season’s loss to the Jackrabbits was the only blemish on an otherwise
perfect season for the 2017 Bison squad that won the FCS National Championship for the sixth time in seven years. A punishing rushing attack and top-notch defense have been key elements to the Bison’s success during their historic run.

The Jacks’ success against the NDSU ground game will be essential to success in Saturday’s matchup.

The Bison are averaging 41.7 points per game and 296.7 yards rushing through the first three contests.

The NDSU offensive attack is led by senior quarterback Easton Stick and senior running back Bruce Anderson. Stick is third all-time in the MVFC in rushing yards by a quarterback but is capable of making plays in the passing game as well. He led the conference in pass efficiency rating (169.5) last season. Anderson led all Bison rushers with 1,216 yards a season ago.

“[The Bison] are predictable in the concept that they want to run the football,” Stiegelmeier said. “They are going to throw the play-action pass and spread us out and throw the ball, but if they have their way, and you can see it when they’re winning, they are going to run the football.”

Since 2011, NDSU has gone 61-5 in the Fargodome.

“North Dakota State creates the best environment for the home team that there is in terms of difficulty and intensity, so we’re looking forward to it. How often does number one get to play number three during a season? Here it comes in the first week of the conference season,” Stiegelmeier said. 

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m, Saturday, Sept. 29 at Gate City Bank Field in the FargoDome. The game can be viewed on MidcoSN and ESPN+. Live tweets will also be available at @CollegianSports.