For the first time in program history, the South Dakota State football team won the Missouri Valley Football Conference and earned a first round bye in the FCS playoffs.
These have been goals for the program since they went to the FCS in 2004. SDSU’s win against the Northern Iowa Panthers (45-24) was the moment they broke the glass.
Now there’s only one goal left for this program to accomplish: a national championship.
“We’re focused on going 1-0 each week and if we do that we can reach our ultimate goal,” SDSU Head Coach John Stiegelmeier said.
The Jacks will face the Villanova Wildcats Saturday, Dec. 3 in Brookings to take their first step toward that goal. The Wildcats defeated the Saint Francis Red Flash 31-17 to move to the second round of the playoffs.
Defensively, the Wildcats shined again as they have all year. Their defensive line recorded six total sacks, an interception and a forced fumble that they were unable to recover. Senior defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon led that defensive charge with two and a half sacks to his name.
Kpassagnon leads the Wildcats with 11 sacks this season, which is tied for fourth in the FCS.
“[He’s] a NFL Draft prospect,” Stiegelmeier said.
Villanova’s defense is one of the best in the FCS, ranking third in total defense of the year. The rushing and passing defense ranks in the top ten for FCS statistical rankings.
However, the Jackrabbits have faced some tough defenses in the Missouri Valley, since Youngstown State is ranked eighth in total defense in the FCS.
“Their [Villanova] defense is a bit different, the level of competition is the same as the Valley teams but they run a scheme that we aren’t used to,” Stiegelmeier said.
Defense isn’t the only strong suit for the Wildcats. The Wildcats can get it done on offense with their rushing attack as they rank in the top twenty FCS for rushing offense at seventeen.
For the Jackrabbits, they have a shot to do something that hasn’t been done in school history — make it out of the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
“It’s a one-game season now and we are playing to play another week,” Stiegelmeier said.
They were relying heavy on their passing game in the beginning weeks of the season, but junior running back Brady Mengarelli came on strong at the end of the regular season with 310 rushing yards in the last three games.
They will have to decide on Saturday, if they want to continue to run the ball with Mengarelli or throw the ball, which is something they have done very well this season.
Sophomore quarterback Taryn Christion has 3,369 total passing yards on the season, which has him ranked fifth in the FCS.
Stiegelmeier said the Jacks are going into the game with an open mind and will do whatever it takes to beat the Wildcats.
The weather might become a factor in the Jackrabbits’ passing attempt with early forecasts indicating temperatures in the mid-30s with moderate wind.
On defense, the Jacks are led by redshirt freshman linebacker Christian Rozeboom. He has 107 total tackles, which leads the team and puts him at third in the MVFC in that category.
The question is which Jackrabbit defense shows up.
The one that held No. 1 North Dakota State to 17 points or the one who let up 38 points and more than 600 yards to Cal Poly?
This will be the first home playoff game for SDSU since 2012. The hope for the Jackrabbits is a stadium filled with fans rooting them on.
“We need the students, tickets are free and what else are you going to do on a Saturday?” Stiegelmeier said with a chuckle.