FARGO — No. 4-ranked South Dakota State scored the game's final 10 points Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
That fourth-quarter dominance lifted the Jackrabbits to a 27-17 victory against No. 2-ranked North Dakota State in Missouri Valley Football Conference play, also earning SDSU the Dakota Marker trophy.
The Jackrabbits (5-1, 5-1 MVFC) clinched a share of the conference championship and secured the league's automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. The Bison (6-2, 4-2) had their string of nine consecutive Missouri Valley conference titles snapped.
“I’ve never been around when we’ve not won the Valley so we’re just going to have to figure out what to do and how to move forward and how to play better next week if we do get the opportunity to play," said Bison linebacker Jackson Hankey.
The loss also ended NDSU's 32-game home winning streak. The Bison will need to be awarded an at-large bid to make the FCS playoffs. The playoff selection show is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday, April 18, on ESPNU. The 16-team field includes six at-large bids.
“If the bracket comes out tomorrow, I would hope we are still playing football on Monday and that we have a chance to still compete and a shot at playing more football games," Hankey said.
The previous Bison home loss came against James Madison in the semifinals of the 2016 FCS playoffs. The Dukes earned a 27-17 victory in that game on their way to the national title that season. NDSU has won three consecutive FCS titles and eight of the past nine national championships.
“We did just get beat by a top-five team and we had our opportunities," said Bison head coach Matt Entz, who has a 22-2 record at NDSU. "I’m not giving up on this group. I’m going to come back to work and coach the heck out of them.”
SDSU freshman running back Isaiah Davis sealed the victory Saturday with a 5-yard touchdown run that gave the Jackrabbits a 27-17 lead with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. That capped a 71-yard drive that only took four plays.
"When the ball is snapped, guys have to do their job and they did it today," said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier, whose team hadn't played a game in a month. "I thought for the most part we played (Jackrabbits) football, we rushed for over 300 (yards). I'm not saying we dominated North Dakota State, but I think we played our game and won the football game."
Jackrabbits kicker Cole Frahm booted a 24-yard field goal that gave SDSU a 20-17 lead with 7:55 to play in the fourth quarter. That capped a 16-play, 70-yard drive and gave SDSU the lead for good.
SDSU finished with 454 yards of total offense, including 305 rushing yards. The Jackrabbits had 10 rushing plays that covered at least 10 yards, including two runs that gained more than 50 yards.
“You’re not going to win games if you give up explosive plays and you don’t play really well in the red zone," Entz said. “I think you saw a number of missed tackles throughout the game. That was frustrating.”
The teams exchanged touchdowns early in the second half. Freshman quarterback Cam Miller led the Bison on a 76-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter. Miller sparked the march with a 39-yard pass play to wide receiver Christian Watson to the SDSU 13-yard line. Two plays later, Miller found a crease and scooted into the end zone from 13 yards out, knotting the score at 10-10 with 11:24 to play in the third quarter.
The Jackrabbits countered with a 92-yard march. Running back Pierre Strong Jr. capped that drive with a 53-yard touchdown run that gave SDSU a 17-10 lead with 8:28 remaining in the third.
The Bison tied the game around six minutes later. Miller capped a 75-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run that made the score 17-17 with 2:11 to play in the third quarter. The score remained even heading into the fourth quarter where SDSU took over. The Jackrabbits outgained the Bison 130-8 over the final 15 minutes. SDSU had 116 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
“Frustrating day," Entz said. "We didn’t play very well on the defensive side of the football. I thought offensively we did some good things, we just needed to have some more possessions.”
Miller completed 9 of 16 passes for 149 yards and rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts.
SDSU scored the lone touchdown of the first half on its second possession of the game. True freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski sparked that scoring drive, completing 3 of 4 passes for 63 yards and rushing for 14 yards. Gronowski zipped a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Kunz to give the Jackrabbits a 7-0 lead with 10:07 to play in the first quarter.
Gronowski completed 10 of 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 126 yards on 16 attempts.
The Bison countered on their next drive with a 41-yard Jake Reinholz field goal that sliced the SDSU lead to 7-3 with 6:18 to play in the opening quarter. Miller completed a 35-yard pass to Watson, which moved the ball to the SDSU 30-yard line, to help set up Reinholz's field goal.
The Jackrabbits closed out the first half with another scoring drive, which culminated with a 31-yard Frahm field goal for a 10-3 lead with three seconds to play until halftime. Davis helped set up those points with a 23-yard reception that moved the ball to the Bison 26.
SDSU gained 215 yards in the opening half on 34 plays. The Jackrabbits were 4 of 8 on third-down conversions and held the ball for more than 17 of the opening 30 minutes.