the Jackrabbits edge past the Bisons for their first national title

No. 1 seed South Dakota State captured its first national championship in program history with a 45-21 win over No. 3 seed North Dakota State at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. It was the Jackrabbits’ fourth straight win over the Bisons and marks a high point in head coach John Stiegelmeier’s phenomenal 25-year career, 2022 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year.

The Jackrabbits have achieved some great things since moving up to Division I, including five trips to the national semi-finals in the last six seasons. However, the match against their toughest rivals represented a unique stage. North Dakota State entered Sunday as the most dominant program in Division I football, winning nine of the last 11 championships with an undefeated record in league play since the game moved to Frisco.

When these two teams last played, the Bison took a 21-7 lead over the Jackrabbits in a regular season game before South Dakota State returned. This time, it was South Dakota State that jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead on a painful offensive effort. The Jackrabbits scored four touchdowns of their first five possessions and used a North Dakota State fumble by running back Kobe Johnson to take a double-digit lead, the first deficit of more than seven points Bison faced in the title game.

South Dakota has pulled all the tricks to squash the bison. MVP quarterback Mark Gronowski threw a hang pass to linebacker Michael Morgan for a 44-yard touchdown and later broke away with a 51-yard touchdown run in front of all but ice to start the third quarter. Running back Amar Johnson was on his way for over 100 yards rushing solo in the first half with help from his 32-yard rushing score.

The Jackrabbits rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns overall, and only fell below the 300 mark on Gronowski’s knee in the winning lineup. The Jackrabbits averaged 8.7 yards per game and dominated the game from start to finish. Brothers Jadon and Jackson Janke also combined for 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

North Dakota State has lost as many regular season games in non-pandemic seasons for the first time since 2015, but had an opportunity to get into the game. North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller threw a pair of touchdowns, but added two interceptions. The Jackrabbits defense also did its job, holding North Dakota State to just 4.3 yards per carry. Aside from a 38-14 loss to Southern Illinois during the spring pandemic season, this is North Dakota State’s biggest loss since a 37-6 decision against Cal Poly on October 8, 2005.

South Dakota State already earned a trip to the FCS championship game during the spring 2021 pandemic season, but fell short of Sam Houston after Gronowski’s injury. This time the Jackrabbits left no doubts. The championship is the 11th in 13 seasons for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The other two national title winners in that span — Sam Houston and James Madison — are moving up to the FBS level. However, the Great Plains Powers remain at the forefront of the FCS.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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