South Dakota State vs. North Dakota State score: Jackrabbits rumble past Bison for first national title

No. 1 South Dakota State captured its first national championship in program history with a 45-21 victory over rival No. 3 North Dakota State at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The victory was the fourth straight for the Jackrabbits over the Bison and marks a high point in the tremendous 25-year career for coach John Stiegelmeier, the 2022 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year.

The Jackrabbits have reached great heights since moving up to Division I, including five trips to the national semifinals in the past six seasons. However, a matchup against their intense rivals provided a unique stage. North Dakota State came into Sunday as the most dominant program in Division I football, winning nine of the past 11 championships with an undefeated record in championship games since the game moved to Frisco.

The last time these two teams played, the Bison took a 21-7 lead on the Jackrabbits in the regular-season matchup before South Dakota State stormed back. This time, it was South Dakota State that jumped out to a 28-7 lead in the first half behind a bruising offensive effort. The Jackrabbits scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and used a fumble from North Dakota State running back Kobe Johnson to swing a double-digit lead, the first deficit of more than seven points the Bison have faced in a title game.

South Dakota State pulled out all the tricks to pulverize the Bison. Quarterback Mark Gronowski, who earned Most Valuable Player honors, threw a jump pass to fullback Michael Morgan for a 44-yard touchdown and later broke away for a 51-yard touchdown run to all but ice the game to start the third quarter. Running back Amar Johnson sped his way to more than 100 yards rushing in the first half alone with the help of a 32-yard rushing score.

The Jackrabbits rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns overall, only brought below the 300 mark thanks to Gronowski kneeling in victory formation. The Jackrabbits averaged 8.7 yards per play and dominated the game from beginning to end. Brothers Jadon and Jaxon Janke also combined for 121 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

North Dakota State lost multiple regular season games in a non-pandemic season for the first time since 2015, but had opportunities to break into the game. North Dakota State quarterback Cam Miller threw a pair of touchdowns, but added two interceptions. The Jackrabbits defense did its job, too, holding North Dakota State to just 4.3 yards per carry. Outside of a 38-14 loss to Southern Illinois during the spring pandemic season, this is the biggest North Dakota State loss since a 37-6 decision against Cal Poly on Oct. 8, 2005.

South Dakota State previously earned a trip to the FCS championship game during the spring 2021 pandemic season, but fell just short to Sam Houston after an injury to Gronowski. This time, the Jackrabbits left no doubt. The championship is the 11th in 13 seasons for the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The other two national title winners in that span — Sam Houston and James Madison — are both moving to the FBS level. However, the Great Plains powers remain at the forefront of the FCS.

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