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South Dakota State Runs Through Montana State, Into FCS Championship

The Jackrabbits avenged last year’s loss to the Bobcats and beat MSU 39-18 in the FCS semifinals on Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Indiana State at South Dakota State Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Revenge is a dish best served cold and South Dakota State served it up very cold to Montana State on Saturday afternoon in frigid Brookings. The Jackrabbits flipped the narrative from last year’s semifinal loss to the Bobcats and handed MSU one this time out in dominant fashion. From shutting down the highly-touted ‘Cats rushing attack to unleashing their own, South Dakota State was all gas in the semifinals and now they’re on their way to Frisco to see a very familiar foe.

For all the talk all week of Montana State's explosive rushing attack, it was the Jackrabbits that landed the first blow. Isaiah Davis went up the middle on the first play to get SDSU's offense out to midfield. Four plays later, quarterback Mark Gronowski hit All-American tight end Tucker Kraft over the top for the quick go-ahead touchdown. Kraft's 36-yard score was his third of the season.

The Bobcats wasted no time in their response. Signal-caller Tommy Mellott completed two big passes to receiver Clevan Thomas to set themselves up in the red zone. The Jacks defense tightened to force a fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Sean Chambers pushed his way over the goal line to score but South Dakota State retained their lead as the extra point went haywire thanks to the bad weather. Blake Glessner couldn't get the kick off and MSU trailed 7-6 midway through the first.

Gronowski extended the Jackrabbits lead late in the opening quarter with a one-yard touchdown run of his own. It came on the heels of a 12-play drive that chewed up over six minutes. In the early stages of the game Montana State had no defensive answers for what SDSU was throwing their way on offense and they trailed 14-6 as the second quarter began.

Things only got worse for MSU in the second. Chambers left with an ankle injury and, after being forced to punt away, the Jacks scored again when Davis broke free on a 41-yard touchdown run. He gave SDSU fans a scare when he dropped the ball right as he crossed the goal line and the officials had to confirm he did indeed cross the plane first. The call stood, though, and South Dakota State ballooned its lead to 21-6.

Montana State was starting to spiral and they needed an answer badly. They got a little boost from their special teams unit as return man Marqui Johnson ran it out to the MSU 43-yard line. From there, though, the ‘Cats were unable to produce anything and had to boot it away for the third time. With under seven minutes to play until halftime, they still trailed by 15.

South Dakota State’s defense was playing tremendously and had held the vaunted MSU rushing attack in check to the tune of just 1.6 yards per carry. Linebacker Adam Bock and company were keeping Mellott in the pocket and honing in on star running back Isaiah Ifanse. Their own offense was humming through the first three possessions and continued to do so on the fourth.

Kraft went under center on fourth and short and pushed his away ahead for a much-needed first down at midfield. With clock winding down under two minutes Amar Johnson busted the game wide open with a 38-yard sprint to the end zone for the Jackrabbits’ third rushing score of the afternoon.

The Bobcats finally showed some signs of life right before the break as Mellott led the team down into the SDSU territory with two completed throws. Jacks defensive lineman Cade Terveer sacked Mellott for a loss of 10 yards and MSU had to settle for a field goal. Glessner knocked through his 37-yard try and made it 28-9 at halftime.

Montana State got the ball coming out of the intermission and desperately needed more points. Those points wouldn’t come, however, as Mellott’s third down pass was batted down and MSU was forced to punt yet again.

Up 19, the Jackrabbits began to impose their will in the third quarter. Jaxon Janke hauled in a 38-yard pass from Gronowski on the first SDSU snap of the half and sprinted his way down to the MSU 42-yard line. Shortly after Johnson brought in a wide open throw from Gronowski and trotted into the end zone. Jadon Janke converted on the two-point try and the Jacks led 36-9.

Looking for any semblance of hope, the Bobcats special teams got another spark when tight end Deryk Snell rumbled 66 yards on the kickoff return to set MSU up well within Jacks territory. Again, though, they were unable to produce anything other than a field goal. Glessner hit his 36-yard try but the deficit was still big at 36-12.

That was the score when the fourth quarter rolled around but it was much of the same for MSU. The Bobcats attempted a fake punt early in the frame but the Jackrabbits defense blew up the play immediately. SDSU kicker Hunter Dustman drilled a 21-yard field goal and essentially slammed the door on Montana State’s season.

The Bobcats did pick up a score when Mellott ran in from 10 yards out. It was too little too late, though, as South Dakota State rolled out to the 39-18 win.

On a day where many thought MSU would be the ones gashing on offense, it was the Jackrabbits who put up big numbers in the run game. At halftime Davis already 100 yards and by the end he came out with 158 on 16 carries. Gronowski completed 10 of his 13 throws for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

The SDSU defense astonishingly held the Montana State ground game, which averaged well over 300 yards per game this year, to just 52 yards. Ifanse was rendered ineffective with only 28 yards on seven carries. Mellott threw for 178 yards on 11 completed passes. The Bobcats will end the season with a 12-2 overall record.

South Dakota State picks up its 13th win of the year and still hasn’t lost since Week 1 against Iowa. They will face their “Dakota Marker” rival North Dakota State in the championship on January 8. Head coach John Stiggelmeier will be seeking his first FCS national title.