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Jacks aim to repeat as champs, SDSU ready for Montana in Frisco

The Argus Leader

After being the preseason favorites to win and repeat as the FCS National Champions this season, South Dakota State has found themselves just one win away from achieving the goal. The Jacks are riding a 28-game win streak with their last loss coming against the University of Iowa on September 3, 2022.

SDSU is led by an elite senior class, eighteen of who will play their final collegiate game this coming Sunday.

“I think what they’ve done has been incredible. This will be the winningest senior group in school history. I talk about this all the time with the guys, just leaving our legacy, and to me that has nothing to do with wins and losses. That has everything to do with individual approach to impacting the people around you,” explained South Dakota State head football coach Jimmy Rogers. “There’s a lot of people with talent, talent is a myth. It’s about how you work, day in and day out, to be at your best, to conquer the moments in your life, to not surrender to complacency to be average. This group has it. I think it’s rare.”

Last year, South Dakota State met up with Missouri Valley Conference rival North Dakota State in Frisco for the national title game. In a place that had become nicknamed ‘Fargo South,’ due to the dominance of the Bison in national championship games, the Jackrabbits captured their biggest football win in school history as they defeated North Dakota State 45-21 in the game. Longtime coach John Stiegelmeier retired after the game with 199 career wins, which paved the way for a new era of Jackrabbit football – the promotion of defensive coordinator Jimmy Rogers.

For coach Rogers, he took over one of the most talented and physically gifted teams in the FCS, but he was challenged with keeping the team focused, prepared, and ready on a week-to-week basis.

“I think we have a bunch of driven individuals. They chose South Dakota State for a reason. We painted a vision for them when they signed here, and we haven’t relaxed as coaches or gotten complaisant,” Rogers stated. “There’s ways to get better, and if you say you want to be elite, you have to be elite day to day and take your work very serious.”

Despite narrowly escaping an early season defeat to Montana State on last second touchdown that was overturned, South Dakota State has dominated in 2023. Defensively, they haven’t given up more than 21-points, and offensively they’ve scored more than 30-points in eleven of their fourteen games.

The playoff stretch included games against Mercer (second round), Villanova (quarterfinals), and UAlbany (semifinals). South Dakota State outscored their opponents 123-12 in just the post-season alone – two of those games being shutouts.

“Coming off the semifinal game, I felt we had played our best football to this point, and we need to carry it over to the National Championship,” exclaimed Rogers. “This team has done everything we were expected to do, and wanted to do, but we have one game left to finish. We’re excited for the challenge, [Montana’s] a really good football team.”

Montana enters Sunday’s FCS National Championship as the No. 2 seeded team. After a 10-1 regular season resume, which included a Big Sky conference championship, the Grizzlies took down Delaware, Furman, and North Dakota State in the playoffs to punch their ticket to the title game. Montana has won national championships twice, ’95 and ’01, in eight title game appearances.

According to SportsLine, South Dakota State currently sits as 12.5 point favorites against Montana. But for the players, they understand the assignment. After all, the Jacks have been favored in every game all year.

“Ultimately that’s why you play the game,” said senior offensive lineman Mason McCormick. “There’s favorites, whatever, any team can win on any given day – especially in a National Championship. Montana is a really good team. They fly around and so, all that stuff kind of goes out the window. It’s who’s the best team on that day and we’ve got to be ready to play our best.”

Along with there being 18 outgoing seniors on this year’s squad, in total, there are 28 roster spots held by kids from South Dakota on the team. For those like McCormick, who was a Sioux Falls Roosevelt kid, and who’s playing in his final collegiate game this coming Sunday, he’s prepared to enjoy it.

“I think it’s cool to soak it all in, take in the moment. We’re one of two teams left playing. We’re blessed to be in this position, and we just want to take it in and absorb,” McCormick stated. “For me and some other guys, this is kind of our last hurrah, so we want to take it al in.”

South Dakota State and Montana will kick off at 1 pm CT on Sunday January 7th at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. 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.