Jackrabbits wallop Panthers in playoffsBROOKINGS — On the back of its rushing game, South Dakota State’s football team is advancing in postseason football for the first time in school history.
By: Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic
BROOKINGS — On the back of its rushing game, South Dakota State’s football team is advancing in postseason football for the first time in school history.
Behind a school-record 295 yards from running back Zach Zenner and 580 yards of total offense, the Jackrabbits rolled to a 58-10 stomping of Eastern Illinois Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in front of 4,367 fans.
SDSU advances to play No. 1-seeded North Dakota State Saturday in Fargo in the second round. NDSU defeated the Jacks, 20-17 Nov. 10 at the Fargodome and the playoff rematch will be the 100th all-time against the Bison.
After barely making the playoff field, the Jackrabbits proved they deserved to be in the postseason all along.
Zenner put SDSU on the scoreboard first, with a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He would be just getting started as the sophomore added two second-quarter touchdowns from four and seven yards out. Paired with two Justin Syrovatka field goals, SDSU built a 24-3 lead with one minute remaining in the half.
The Jackrabbits (9-3) added a touchdown on the final play of the first half on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Sumner to tight end Cam Jones to give the Jacks a 34-3 lead after SDSU blocked an EIU punt.
“That football team came out and beat us on both sides of the football,” EIU head coach Dino Babers said of the Jackrabbits. The Panthers, who earned the automatic bid out of the Ohio Valley Conference, have lost their last 10 playoff games and have failed to defeat a Missouri Valley team in the playoffs in the last seven first-round meetings.
Syrovatka, who has made his last 11 field goal tries, added a third-quarter field goal to make it 37-3 and backup running back Reggie Gandy, who picked up 151 yards on 16 carries, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to set the final score.
Zenner amassed 246 yards in the first half and put the NCAA FCS playoff record of 333 in danger at the intermission, but Zenner’s final total was enough to break the single-game school mark of SDSU great and Tyndall native Josh Ranek, who ran for 291 yards in 1999.
“I think we played our best football game, which [our coaching staff] challenged [our players] to do and they rose to that challenge,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, who earned his first career playoff win.
Eastern Illinois (7-5), who runs an uptempo style of offense and averaged nearly 39 points a game coming in, was limited to a fourth-quarter touchdown and 221 yards passing, the Panthers’ second-lowest pass yardage output of the year. It was the Jackrabbits who ended up running more offensive plays, 81 to EIU’s 73 and the Jackrabbits’ power on offense was far too much to match.
“When you run the football, it ignites everyone on the football team and discourages the other team — even their offense because they can’t get on the field,” Stiegelmeier said. “That was huge in the football game.”
Saturday’s game was the Jacks’ second FCS playoff performance and their first playoff game at home at any level. They had no problems taking advantage.
“This season has been great so far,” Zenner said. “But it’s not over yet.”