No. 1 seed South Dakota State captured its first national championship in program history with a 45-21 victory over rival No. 3 North Dakota State at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. It was the Jackrabbits’ fourth straight victory over the Bisons and marks a high point in the phenomenal 25-year career of Coach John Stiegelmeier, 2022 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year.
The Jackrabbits have reached great heights since moving up to Division I, including five trips to the national semi-finals in the past six seasons. However, the match against their toughest rivals presented a unique stage. North Dakota State entered Sunday as the most dominant program in Division I Football, winning nine of the past 11 championships with an undefeated record in championship games since the game moved to Frisco.
The last time those two teams played, the Bison took a 21-7 lead over the Jackrabbits in a regular season game before South Dakota State came back. This time, it was South Dakota State who jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead behind a painful offensive effort. The Jackrabbits scored four touchdowns of their first five possessions and used a fumble from North Dakota State running back Kobe Johnson to take a double-digit lead, the first more than seven-point deficit the Bison have faced in the title game.
South Dakota pulled out all the tricks to crush the bison. MVP quarterback Mark Gronowski threw a jump 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 game ice to start the third quarter. Running back Amar Johnson was on his way to over 100 yards rushing in the first half on his own with the help of his 32-yard rushing score.
The Jackrabbits rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns overall, and only came below the 300 mark thanks to Gronowski’s kneeling in victory formation. The Jackrabbits averaged 8.7 yards per game and dominated the game from start to finish. Brothers Jadon and Jackson Yankee also combined for 121 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
North Dakota State lost multiple regular season games in non-pandemic seasons for the first time since 2015, but it had opportunities to break into the game. North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller threw a pair of touchdowns, but added two interceptions. The Jackrabbits defense did its job as well, holding North Dakota State to just 4.3 yards per carry. Outside of 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 previously 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 doubt. The championship is the 11th in 13 seasons for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The other two national title winners in that period – Sam Houston and James Madison – are moving up to the FBS level. However, the Great Plains Powers remain at the forefront of FCS.
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