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Top-seeded Jackrabbits rout Delaware, secure third-straight FCS quarterfinal appearance

No. 1 SDSU will host No. 8 Holy Cross in the quarterfinals in a rematch of a spring 2021 playoff tilt.

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South Dakota State receiver Jaxon Janke (10) braces for a hit from Delaware linebacker Drew Nickles (51) while carrying the ball upfield following a reception during an FCS second round playoff game on Dec. 3, 2022, at Dykhouse Stadium, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic
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BROOKINGS — Any questions regarding playoff readiness following a three-week layoff between games for the South Dakota State football team were emphatically dismissed once the Jackrabbits postseason march got underway.

Apart from an early miscue that gifted Delaware its first and only lead, SDSU dismantled the Blue Hens, sailing to a 42-6 win in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Saturday afternoon at Dykhouse Stadium.

Offensively, the Jackrabbits (11-1) controlled the proceedings, averaging nearly 7 yards per play and rushing for 222 yards as part of their 353 total. On the other side of the ball, SDSU limited Delaware to 192 total yards, as the Blue Hens (8-5) crossed the 50-yard line just four times in the game.

“I think it took a play or two (to adjust to game speed again),” said offensive lineman Mason McCormick. “But then it felt like we were back rolling. We did a lot of competing in our bye weeks and I think that really benefited us to not have any rust.”

SDSU scored 21 straight points across the first and second quarters to seize control. Then, the Jackrabbits matched the output with three more scores in the third quarter to put the game out of reach for a Delaware offense that struggled to move the ball all afternoon after star quarterback Nolan Henderson was knocked out of the game due to injury in the first quarter.

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“Football is an imperfect game,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier. “We could win a national championship some day and still watch the film and go, ‘Dang, we can get a lot better.’ But we played pretty well at the start.”

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South Dakota State defensive lineman Caleb Sanders (99) sacks Delaware quarterback Ryan O'Connor during an FCS second round playoff game on Dec. 3, 2022, at Dykhouse Stadium, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

Delaware’s lone break came after going three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, with a muffed punt by SDSU reviving the drive. The result was a 27-yard Brandon Ratcliffe field goal that put the visitors up 3-0 midway through the first quarter, a position not altogether different than when the teams met in the 2021 national semifinals.

But just as was the case that afternoon in an eventual 33-3 SDSU romp, the action that followed leaned heavily in the Jacks’ favor.

Once SDSU finally gained possession, it took just over three minutes for the Jackrabbits to drive 70 yards on five plays, all runs, capped by a 1-yard scoring plunge by Isaiah Davis.

Once the advantage was secured at 7-3, SDSU never trailed again.

Davis added a second rushing touchdown, this time from 10 yards out, early in the second quarter before quarterback Mark Gronowski barreled in on a 1-yard keeper to push the score to 21-3 in the waning stages of the first half.

Delaware snuck in a 39-yard Ratcliffe field goal as time expired in the half to make it 21-6 at the break, but it did little to stem the tide.

SDSU marched 58 yards in 14 plays to open the second half, punctuated with a 2-yard Amar Johnson scoring scamper.

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The hole only deepened for Delaware moments later, as a special teams miscue on a punt wound up with SDSU’s Matthew Durrance recovering the ball in the endzone for a touchdown that upped the advantage to 35-6.

A Gronowski to Jaxon Janke connection in the back of the endzone, which required a nifty toe tap from the receiver for a 4-yard touchdown, put the finishing touches on the lopsided display with 30 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Gronowski finished 11-of-15 through the air for 131 yards and added 73 rushing yards on eight carries, the bulk of which came on a 51-yard run in the first quarter. Jaxon Janke caught four passes for 38 yards, with Jadon Janke adding three for 48. Davis rolled to 104 yards on 14 carries, with Johnson chipping in 40 yards on nine attempts.

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South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis (22) lunges backward toward the endzone while battling a pair of Delaware defenders during an FCS second round playoff game on Dec. 3, 2022, at Dykhouse Stadium, in Brookings.
Landon Dierks / Mitchell Republic

A serious injury to Delaware quarterback Ryan O'Connor, who took a big hit while entering a feet-first slide and was carted off on a stretcher and under medical supervision, put an end to the contest with 67 seconds still showing on the clock after both sides agreed to end the game.

A Twitter update from Delaware football following the game read, “O’Connor was responsive and moving all of his extremities upon leaving the field and is being examined further.”

“We sure hope and pray that young man is going to be 100%,” Stiegelmeier said to begin his remarks. “That’s where my initial thoughts are.”

O’Connor completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 104 yards in Henderson's stead, as Thyrick Pitts finished as the leading receiver with five receptions for 57 yards. The Blue Hens’ leading rusher was Kyron Cumby with 23 yards on 10 attempts.

Another rematch from the 2021 spring season looms in next week’s quarterfinal round, as No. 1 SDSU hosts No. 8 Holy Cross at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10. The Crusaders defeated New Hampshire, 35-19, in the second round. SDSU breezed to a 31-3 win during the prior playoff meeting.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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