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SDSU knocks off Missouri State in Valley meeting of top-ranked FCS teams

The Jackrabbits improved to 3-1 behind a strong defensive performance between teams ranked in the top-10.

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — South Dakota State scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and the Jackrabbit defense turned in a strong performance throughout the afternoon to come away with a 28-14 victory over Missouri State in a battle between top-five programs in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams Saturday afternoon at Plaster Stadium.

The Jackrabbits, tied for second in the Stats Perform media poll and third in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches' poll, improved to 3-1 overall. Missouri State, tied for fourth in the coaches' poll and sixth in the media poll, dropped to 2-2 on the season. It was SDSU's 12th win in 13 Division I meetings with the Bears.

SDSU broke into the scoring column first, putting together a 10-play, 92-yard drive late in the first quarter that ended on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski and Jadon Janke.

Meanwhile, the Jackrabbit defense harassed Missouri State quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Jason Shelley all day. SDSU defenders sacked Shelley three times in the first half and four times in the game, and also intercepted Shelley twice.

Colby Huerter recorded the first SDSU interception on a Shelley pass in the red zone on the Bears' first possession of the second half. The ensuing 70-yard return by Huerter put the ball at the MSU 24 and the Jackrabbits quickly cashed in. Four plays after the turnover, Gronowski found Jaxon Janke over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Jackrabbit lead.

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Missouri State appeared to wrest the momentum away from the Jackrabbits later in the period as the Bears scored touchdowns on each of their next two possessions. Jacardia Wright finished off a six-play, 71-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown run for the first score, then Shelley found Raylen Sharpe deep down the field on the first play of the next drive for a 67-yard touchdown.

As the game flipped to the fourth quarter, SDSU put together two methodical drives to take the victory. Zach Heins scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 21-yard pass down the middle to cap a 10-play, 70-yard march with 7 minutes, 59 seconds remaining. Heins set career highs with seven catches and 127 yards receiving.

Following MSU's seventh punt of the contest, the Jackrabbits covered 84 yards on seven plays, with Jadon Janke scoring his second touchdown of the game from 40 yards on a catch and run along the left sideline with 2:30 remaining. Jadon Janke finished with 102 yards on a career-high eight catches, while Jaxon Janke added six receptions for 83 yards.

A Matthew Durrance interception of Shelley in the end zone in the final minute secured the victory.

SDSU finished with a 475-258 advantage in total offense. Gronowski established new career highs with 22 completions — in 29 attempts — as well as 319 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Isaiah Davis led the ground game with 83 yards on 20 carries.

Shelley ended the day 19-of-29 passing for 185 yards, while Wright paced the rushing attack with 63 yards on 13 carries and tallied a team-high five catches for 14 yards.

The Jackrabbits return home to face Western Illinois on Oct. 1.

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