FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Mark Gronowski threw three touchdown passes and rushed for 51 yards for another as South Dakota State claimed its first national championship with a 45-21 victory Sunday over State of North Dakota, who lost for the first time in their 10 FCS title game appearances.
As a true freshman two seasons ago, Gronowski tore the ACL in his left knee during the opening set of the football championship subdivision title game. Now nearly 20 months after a loss in that unprecedented spring final, and after the quarterback missed the entire 2021 season, the Jackrabbits (14-1) have beaten their border state rival for the biggest Coach John Stiegelmeier’s 26th season award at his alma mater.
Amar Johnson rushed for 126 yards and Isaiah Davis rushed for 119 for his ninth 100-yard game this season, and both scored touchdowns for South Dakota State. Gronowski, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards, scored on the third play of the second half to extend the lead to 38-14.
Cam Miller passed 17 of 26 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Bison (12-3), which moved from Fargo to Frisco for the 10th time in 12 seasons.
The Jackrabbits have won the last four meetings between the Missouri Valley Football Conference rivals, all in less than two years. The previous three had played regular-season games for the Dakota Marker Trophy not up for grabs at the MLS football stadium nearly 1,000 miles from their states’ border. It was their 114th meeting since 1903, but only the fifth in the FCS playoffs and first in the league game.
South Dakota State’s only previous FCS title game appearance was a last-minute loss to Sam Houston State in May 2021 after the lower division season was pushed back to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19. The Jackrabbits beat NDSU in that abbreviated regular season and then again later this fall before a 23-21 victory last October after overcoming a 21-7 halftime deficit in the Fargodome.
Johnson’s 32-yard TD rush broke a tie at 7 early in the second quarter. The Jackrabbits got the ball back straight away when Steven Arrell stripped the ball from running back Kobe Johnson and Dalys Beanum at the Bison 34. Gronowski hit Jaxon Janke wide open for an 18-yard TD four plays later – Janke also had a 30-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
There was a 44-yard touchdown pass exchange just before halftime. On a play of third-and-one, Gronowski moved forward as if he was going to try to run for the first down when he instead stopped for the line and threw to Mike Morgan on his own behind all the defense. Miller then hit Eli Green for a 44-yard TD.
North Dakota State: The Bisons are 44-4 in the FCS playoffs and missed a chance to tie Georgia Southern’s record 45 wins, which now plays at the FBS level. They have just 14 total losses since 2011, when they won the first of their nine FCS titles, and six of those losses are to South Dakota State – no other team has multiple wins over NDSU during this period.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits won a school-record 14 straight games since opening this season with a 7-3 loss to Big Ten team Iowa.
North Dakota State opens the 2023 season Sept. 2 in Minneapolis, one of the school’s largest alumni bases, against perennial playoff team FCS Eastern Washington.
South Dakota State is still hoping to fill an open slot on its 2023 schedule for Labor Day weekend. As of now, the first set game is September 9 at home against 2021 national finalist Montana State, which the Jackrabbits defeated in this season’s national semifinal.
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