BROOKINGS -- A 21-0 second half swing carried the South Dakota State football team to the NCAA Division I FCS semifinals Sunday night, as the Jackrabbits knocked off conference rival Southern Illinois 31-26 at Dykhouse Stadium in front of 3,547 fans.
The Jackrabbits will host Delaware (7-0) on May 8. The game will be at 11 a.m. Saturday and televised on ESPN. The Blue Hens defeated fourth-seeded Jacksonville State 20-14 on Sunday in Jacksonville, Alabama to advance to the semifinals. James Madison and Sam Houston will play in the other national semifinal game.
SDSU charged to a 31-20 lead after recovering an SIU fumble and Isaiah Davis scoring on a short touchdown run with 7 minutes remaining. But the Salukis responded with a five-play drive and a 31-yard touchdown strike from Stone Labanowitz to Landon Lenoir to cut the Jackrabbit lead to five points with 5:37 left.
SIU forced a stop on defense and got the ball back with a little more than 2 minutes left and drove to the SDSU 36 with 19 seconds left when Labanowitz was intercepted by Michael Griffin to seal the game.
Down 10 points at halftime, the Jacks (7-1) got a 26-yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski to Jadon Janke midway through the third quarter to trim the Saluki lead to three points.
A turning point came on the ensuing drive, when SIU had a 17-play drive to the SDSU 1-yard-line and handed it off to 320-pound offensive lineman ZeVeyo Furcron -- who scored on a short plunge in the first quarter -- and was denied at the goal line.
The play came after a 16-yard pass from Labanowitz to Javon Williams Jr. to the 1-yard-line, where he was ruled out of bounds. It appeared that Williams scored on the play but the officials did not review the play, and SDSU ended up with the goal-line stand.
Six plays later, Gronowski busted off a 67-yard touchdown run to put SDSU in the lead 24-20 with 11:41 left. Sunday’s win marks the third time this season that SDSU has won a game where it trailed in the fourth quarter, joining the season-opening win at Northern Iowa and a home victory over Youngstown State.
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, in his 24th year, called it one of the best halves of football his team has ever played against that caliber of team.
"They surely made us earn this victory," Stiegelmeier said.
The Jackrabbits trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, with the SDSU offense stuck in neutral for most of the first 30 minutes, and SIU converting a handful of third downs. But SDSU had two key defensive stops, holding SIU to field goals in the red zone, leaving it 20-7, and the Jacks picked up a field goal before halftime from kicker Cole Frahm when Davis had a long kickoff return just before halftime.
For the Jacks, Gronowski was 9 for 16 passing for 183 yards, with two passing touchdowns, both to Jadon Janke. In two games this season, Janke now has five receptions in the playoffs, and four have gone for touchdowns.
"There was a little bit of nervousness," Janke said of the early portion of the game. "But (our coaches) have done a good job of keeping us mentally prepared, staying positive throughout the game."
Gronowski rushed for 142 yards on 13 carries, as SDSU rushed 33 times for 231 yards in the game.
For the Salukis (6-4), Labanowitz had 247 passing yards on 25 of 36 passing attempts, finding receiver Landon Lenoir for 129 yards on six catches and a touchdown.
"Ultimately, there's no moral victories" SIU coach Nick Hill said. "The rest of the country can not believe, but those guys believed they were going to come up and win."
The game was a far cry from the 44-3 blowout in Carbondale, Illinois on March 20, when the Jackrabbits scored 24 points off turnovers and rushed for nearly 400 yards.
SIU 7 13 0 6 — 26
SDSU 7 3 7 14 — 31
SDSU: Jadon Janke 23 pass from Mark Gronowski, 12:18. (Cole Frahm kick)
SIU: ZeVeyo Furcron 1 run, 7:25. (Nico Gualdoni kick)
SIU: Avante Cox 11 run, 12:17. (Gualdoni kick)
SIU: Gualdoni 19 FG, 6:57.
SIU: Gualdoni 33 FG, 0:22.
SDSU: Frahm 34 FG, 0:00.
SDSU: Janke 26 pass from Gronowski, 8:06. (Frahm kick)
SDSU: Gronowski 67 run, 11:41. (Frahm kick)
SDSU: Isaiah Davis 4 run, 7:11. (Frahm kick)
SIU: Landon Lenoir 31 pass from Stone Labanowitz, 5:37. (pass failed)