Jackrabbits and Bison fight for FCS Championship spot



Trenton Abrego, Sports Editor

It’ll be a South Dakota State-North Dakota State showdown, but instead of the Dakota Marker on the line, the stakes will even be higher: a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship.

SDSU (10-2, 6-2) advanced to its second FCS Semifinal in as many years after downing the No. 4 Kennesaw State Owls 27-17.

North Dakota State didn’t have much trouble defeating the then-undefeated Colgate Raiders en route to a 35-0 rout in the FargoDome.

Familiar foe

Earlier this season, the Bison (13-0, 8-0) downed the Jackrabbits 21-17 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener.  

In that game, the Jacks took a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter but were unable to hang on.

“It was a hard-fought game, and a few plays to find it, a scramble for them and an interception for them and it’s a 14-point swing,” head coach John Stieglmeier said.

That was when the Jackrabbits were a different-look team.

The rushing game was then spearheaded by a trio of Isaac Wallace, Mike Daniel and C.J. Wilson. Now, Pierre Strong, Jr. has effectively taken over the running duties after the injuries of both Wallace and Wilson.

The Jackrabbits were also with Krockett Krolikowski, the team’s second-sack leader, due to a knee injury.

“We don’t use next man up cause it’s cliché, we don’t use clichés,” Stiegelmeier said. “We say believe in your players,”

A look at the Bison

NDSU has routinely dominated the FCS and has won six of the last seven national titles. This year is no exception, as the Bison are currently outscoring opponents 350-144.

Senior quarterback Easton Stick leads the Bison offense with 2,385 passing yards, 25 touchdown and five interceptions on 150 completions.

Stick’s most-targeted pass catcher to this point has been Darrius Shepherd, who has 53 receptions for 869 yards and seven touchdowns. The second-most targeted receiver is Dallas Freeman who has 19 receptions for 355 yards and a touchdown.

It’s not just through the air where Stick excels. 

Stick has rushed for 409 yards, 11 touchdowns on 83 carries.

But, Stick isn’t the only player for the Bison that has proven he can effectively run the ball.

Bruce Anderson, Lance Dunn and Ty Brooks have both filled in as running backs and have proven to be a strong 1-2-3 punch.

Anderson has 845 yards and seven touchdowns on 115 attempts. Anderson has also been a facet in the passing game and has the fourth-most receiving yards on the team with 185 yards on 11 receptions.

However, the Bison will be without Dunn, the second-leading rusher for the Bison.

Instead, the Bison will have to look to Brooks, who has been a strong contributor to the rushing attack with 607 yards and five touchdowns on 83 attempts.

Defensively, the Bison are allowing 11 points, 106 rushing yards per game and 172 passing yards.

“They play great defense, they are very good at disguising their defenses, the environment has got to be worth some points with the noise and it affects your communication,” Stiegelmeier said.

The North Dakota State defense is led by sophomore linebacker Jabril Cox, who has nine and a half tackles for a loss, four of them being sacks and four interceptions.

In the secondary, the Bison have caused issues for opposing defenses and have 20 interceptions.

Part of the reason why the Bison defense is so hard to gauge is their movement.

“You don’t know if they are zone or man, blitzing or not cause there is a lot of movement,” “You don’t know what’s going on,” Stiegelmeier said.

A tale of two coaches

Earlier this week, multiple media outlets reported that Chris Klieman will not be returning to coach the Bison, and will instead head to Manhattan, Kansas to coach the Kansas State Wildcats.

When news broke that James Madison head coach Mike Houston was leaving, the Dukes fell in the FCS First Round 23-20 to Colgate.

However, Stiegelmeier doesn’t think that the Bison will have the same issues as the Dukes.

“I think good football players, they have, don’t get distracted by things like that,” Stiegelmeier said.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the 61-year old John Stiegelmeier won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Stiegelmeier inked a five-year contract extension.

Preparing for a familiar territory

It will be the fifth time the South Dakota State Jackrabbits and North Dakota State Bison will face off, with four of those showdowns coming in Fargo.

In the last five showdowns, the Bison have three wins, while the Jackrabbits have found some success and won two of the last five.

The last time the Jackrabbits were victorious in the FargoDome was Oct. 15, 2016, on a last-second Jake Wieneke touchdown.

“There is no mystery, there is no ‘I wonder what’s going to happen here,’” Stiegelmeier said.

Kickoff between the Jackrabbits and Bison is scheduled for 7 p.m., Dec. 14. The game will be televised on ESPN2.