When the clock hit zeros in chilly Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Friday night, the cold was likely the furthest thing from the minds of South Dakota State and its fans. The Jackrabbits celebrated with first-year head coach Jimmy Rogers with warm thoughts of Frisco, TX in their heads. For the second straight year, SDSU has punched it ticket to the national championship and again it did so in staggering fashion.
5-seed UAlbany boasts the best rush defense in the nation this year but the Jackrabbits and Isaiah Davis showed from the jump that they were not intimated by the Great Danes tacklers. On an opening drive that ate up nearly seven minutes, Davis and the SDSU offense sliced their way through the CAA co-champs. Mark Gronowski threaded a nice six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Heins to kick off the scoring.
The big question going in for UAlbany was how well quarterback Reese Poffenbarger could handle the adverse conditions of being on the road in a place like Brookings. While the Danes first drive showed promise, it was cut short when SDSU safety Tucker Large jumped in front of a Poffenbarger pass and picked it off.
Now up 7-0 with the ball, Gronowski wasted no time in delivering another big blow. On the second play of the series he uncorked a 40-yard pass to receiver Jadon Janke to set up the Jacks in the red zone. Davis capped it off with a three-yard scoring run and all of the sudden the game began to avalanche on Greg Gatusso’s squad.
The second quarter began with much of the same for UAlbany. After the offense stalled once more and had to punt, the Danes defense was called upon again. Again, though, Davis and Gronowski made light work of things. After Gronowski rumbled through the open field for a 32-yard gain, Davis notched his second touchdown of the night to put the Jackrabbits on top 21-0 with 11:11 to play before the half.
In a game that was already a blowout, Large blew the roof off things when he fielded a punt later in the quarter and danced his way 79 yards to the house. The dejected Great Danes looked on as Large cut his way up, around and through to the end zone and made it a four-score lead.
Cornerbacks DyShawn Gales and Dalys Beanum added insult to injury when he picked off Poffenbarger on his next two drives before the break. The only positive UAlbany was able to muster was a blocked field goal try from Hunter Dustman. The Jackrabbits held a commanding 35-0 advantage when the teams went into the locker rooms thanks to one more Gronowski deep ball to Janke. The Jacks couldn’t have asked for a more perfect first 30 minutes.
The Jacks starters put their stamp on it on the second play of the third quarter. Isaiah Stalbird delivered a big hit on Danes running back Griffin Woodell who coughed the ball out. Jason Freeman scooped it up and went untouched into the end zone. Before fans could hit their seats coming out of the break, the Jackrabbits led 42-0.
From there the Jacks coasted it out. Gronowski hit Heins one more time for the exclamation point score to put the Jacks up by 49. The backups came in and took it home, completing the shutout. Chase Mason came in and tossed his first career TD pass to Griffin Wilde.
Gronowski, whose first incompletion didn’t come until the second quarter, was masterful completing 15 of 19 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Davis was again a wrecking ball on the ground with 107 yards and two scores. The senior running back now has seven straight 100-yard playoff games. Janke set a new SDSU playoff record for receiving yards with 151 yards (he had all of those yards by halftime) and two scores.
South Dakota State has now extended its winning streak to 28 games. They got touchdowns from its offense, defense and special teams while holding the Great Danes to just 59 total yards on the ground. Poffenbarger’s sophomore season comes to an unceremonious end. He was kept out of the end zone all night and threw three interceptions.
The Jacks (14-0) will await the winner of tomorrow’s game between the Montana Grizzlies and a team they know all too well, North Dakota State. They will clash with either the Griz or the Bison on January 7 in Toyota Stadium but will almost-assuredly be favorites over whoever they see.