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Jackrabbits poised for rivalry championship showdown in Frisco

BROOKINGS, SD - DECEMBER 17: Caleb Sanders #99 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits celebrates a big stop against the Montana State Bobcats at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)
Dave Eggen
South Dakota State University
BROOKINGS, SD - DECEMBER 17: Caleb Sanders #99 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits celebrates a big stop against the Montana State Bobcats at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, SD. (Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

While the Dakota Marker itself won’t be on the line this weekend, the Bison and Jackrabbits will re-ignite their rivalry on the biggest stage in D1 FCS Football – the National Championship game this Sunday in Frisco, Texas.

For South Dakota State University, they’re experiencing their most successful season in division one football and are searching for their first national title. North Dakota State University, on the other hand, will play for its tenth national championship in their 12th appearance.

The SDSU – NDSU rivalry goes back to 1903. In football, the Bison hold the advantage with a 63-45-5 all-time record against the Jackrabbits.

“Very intense, full of a lot of pride and bragging rights,” said SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier about the rivalry. “And really, I would say, was the single foundation of our move, it was a foundational building block of our two schools going to division one. Because we had nobody, we had nothing. We had ourselves out here in North Dakota and South Dakota, had no conference, and so that really impacted a lot of things to where our programs had gone.

The two schools began their initial transition to DI at the same time in 2007.

Despite NDSU’s dominance as a football program, and their success against SDSU specifically in postseason play – they’re 4-0 over the Jackrabbits in the FCS Playoffs – Coach Stig said his squad is focused and ready.

“We’ve told them keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t let outside noise impact your preparation for the game,” Stiegelmeier said. “We’ve got a very mature team, very mature group of leaders, and I’m certain they’re enjoying the process and it’s not distracting them from what we do.”

If there’s a year for the Jackrabbits to make the hurdle and beat their biggest football rival on the league’s biggest stage, it might be this one. SDSU’s lone loss was a 7-3 defeat in the season opener at the University of Iowa. Since then, the Jacks have won 13-straight, which includes playoff wins over No. 23 Delaware, No. 7 Holy Cross, and No. 3 Montana State. SDSU entered the post-season as the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history.

This is SDSU’s second appearance in the FCS National Championship game. They lost to Sam Houston 23-21 in the spring COVID season of 2021.

The team left for Frisco, Texas on Thursday afternoon. It’ll be just over three weeks since their last game by the time Sunday rolls around.

Winter weather has forced a lot of SDSU’s practices to be indoors, but Coach Stig still believes his squad is ready to go.

“It’s been good, because of the amount of time, we haven’t spent a ton of time on the field. We’ve been way below our normal practice routine, but that’s been good,” coach Stiegelmeier said. “Our guy’s have had great energy, our coaches have limited the amount of stuff that we’ve been telling our guy’s, and the biggest thing is we really feel blessed to have the [Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex].”

SDSU is led by sophomore quarterback Mark Gronowski who has 34 touchdowns on the year – 11 of those rushing. He also has 2,744 yards passing on the season. Isaiah Davis leads the Jackrabbits run attack with 1,348 rushing yards and 14 scores. Jadon and Jaxon Janke, twin brothers out of Madison, South Dakota, combine for 1,510 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

North Dakota State and South Dakota State will kickoff from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas this Sunday, January 8th, at 1 pm CT. The game will air live on ABC.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.