In a meeting with the press earlier this week, North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz said “I think [South Dakota State] is probably the best football team in the country ... they’ve played better football than we have.” Those words turned out to be prophetic on Saturday afternoon because SDSU did what few have been able to do: walk off the turf in the Fargodome victorious.
The Jacks are really good at stopping the run and everyone knew it going in. That’s probably why North Dakota State opted to throw it four times on their opening drive. Cam Miller completed all four of his pass attempts on the first series and it paid off. In front of a capacity crowd, receiver DJ Hart got the first touchdown of his collegiate career. Miller hit Hart for a 22-yard catch and run score to put the Bison up early.
Even with an energized crowd against them, South Dakota State responded perfectly. Mark Gronowski and Isaiah Davis picked up some big third down conversions on the Jackrabbits’ first possession. It was Davis, though, that ran straight up the gut through the Bison defense to tie the game. The 24-yard touchdown run was one of Davis’ most impressive so far this season.
Miller found Hart on another big pass on the next drive. Two plays later Miller pushed it in himself to regain the lead. It was about then that the Jacks started to seem a little rattled. Davis flinched and picked up SDSU’s fourth false start of the opening quarter.
NDSU continued to pick up momentum as the second frame began. Hunter Luepke rumbled to a big first down on 4th and 1 to start the quarter and shortly after Miller connected with Luepke for the third Bison TD of the afternoon; a beautiful 30-yard strike to the end zone.
It wasn’t until late in the first half that South Dakota State caught it’s first big break of the game. With NDSU marching once again and threatening to go on top by three scores, Colby Huerter stepped in front of a pass from Cole Payton in the end zone and gave the ball back to the Jacks. At halftime, North Dakota State led 21-7.
PICKED OFF!— SDSU Football (@GoJacksFB) October 15, 2022
Colby Huerter comes up with an interception in the end zone to thwart an NDSU drive
North Dakota State 21, South Dakota State 7
3:22 to play in first half pic.twitter.com/nSwIZ9kt6p
SDSU cut the deficit to 11 points on their opening drive of the second half when Hunter Dustman hit on a 31-yard field goal. The Jacks defense rode on that momentum and held the Bison to a punt midway through the third.
The tides of the game began to turn. Gronowski took a page right form NDSU’s playbook and orchestrated a long drive that chewed up nearly six minutes off the clock as the offense went 73 yards. Amar Johnson capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run to draw it back to 21-17 and just like that, the Fargo crowd was quieted.
With the fourth quarter beginning, the Jackrabbits continued to build on their newfound momentum. Davis and company bullied their way down the field once more but, when they absolutely had to have it, North Dakota State’s defense held and forced the Jacks to settle for just three. With just over 10 minutes to go, NDSU clung to a one-point lead.
The unease of Bison fans proved to be well-founded as SDSU forced another big stop and gave the ball back to their offense. This time, three points was enough to get the lead back. Dustman nailed his third field goal of the day from 18-yards out.
With one final chance, the Bison couldn’t quite get it done. Miller got the offense to midfield but his fourth down pass fluttered incomplete. The South Dakota State sideline erupted in celebration as they held on for the 23-21 win.
It was 16 unanswered points by the Jacks offense that ensured the Dakota Marker will stay in with the Jacks. Davis finished his big day with 114 yards and a touchdown while Gronowski went 16-of-21 for 152 yards.
On the other side, Luepke was held in check after his electric start; 15 carries for only 58 yards. Miller tossed for 227 yards and two scores.
The 113th matchup between these teams will likely have major playoff implications. You’d have to imagine SDSU will be the new #1 and if that holds, the road to Frisco will go through Brookings. If North Dakota State has to travel in the postseason it’ll be because of this game and that could be huge.
The only question now; will we see the encore of this game in December... or beyond?