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South Dakota State cruises past Holy Cross in FCS playoffs opener

SDSU picks up opening-round victory, will host FCS quarterfinal

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Holy Cross running back Peter Oliver (24) is tackled by South Dakota State's Isaiah Stalbird (2) in the first half of the Jackrabbits' FCS playoff game April 24, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Dave Eggen / Inertia Sports Media)
Dave Eggen/Inertia

BROOKINGS -- Stout defense and strong offense carried top-seeded South Dakota State to an opening-round victory in the FCS playoffs over visiting Holy Cross 31-3 on Saturday, April 24 at Dykhouse Stadium.

SDSU (6-1) will play the winner of Weber State and Southern Illinois on Saturday, May 1 or Sunday, May 2 in Brookings, with the game time to be announced late Saturday.

Freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski had three passing touchdowns and the running back duo of Pierre Strong Jr. and Isaiah Davis rushed for a combined 232 of the Jackrabbits’ 281 rushing yards.

SDSU put the game away early in the third quarter, taking advantage of a key Crusader miscue. On the next play after SDSU’s Chase Norblade recovered a muffed punt return, Gronowski found Jadon Janke deep over the middle of the field for a 45-yard touchdown pass, putting SDSU up 24-3 early in the third quarter.

"I don’t know if it was a dagger, but we stuck them with something," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said of the importance of the play.

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Gronowski, named as the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s offensive player and freshman of the year earlier in the week, completed 12 of 21 passes for 153 yards. Janke had two touchdown catches and finished with 69 yards receiving.

In the first half, SDSU built its advantage on the strength of its rushing game and then finished the drives with passing scores, racking up 9.4 yards per rushing attempt and totaling 253 yards of offense.

After blocking a 49-yard field goal on Holy Cross’ first possession, SDSU scored the first points of the contest with Gronowski finding Jaxon Janke for a 11-yard touchdown with 2:31 remaining in the first quarter. Jaxon Janke finished with 37 yards on five catches.

In the second quarter, SDSU added a Cole Frahm field goal, and later, Gronowski found Jadon Janke for a 13-yard touchdown pass with under 4 minutes left for a 17-0 lead.

"Every single week, it’s about doing our work and doing our job … and getting better every single week," Gronowski said. "We know we can beat anyone."

Holy Cross was able to muster a drive to the SDSU 29-yard-line with 29 seconds left in the half, with Derek Ng hitting a 46-yard field goal to cut the Jackrabbit advantage to 17-3.

Davis provided the finishing touches on the blowout victory with a 60-yard touchdown run with 11 minutes left in the game for a 31-3 lead, allowing the starters to head to the sidelines.

Davis finished with 156 yards on 10 carries, while Strong had 76 yards on the ground on 13 carries.

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The Jackrabbits were in the FCS playoffs for the ninth straight season but Saturday marked the start of their first appearance as the overall No. 1 seed.

"We want to come out there and play our hardest," SDSU offensive lineman Mason McCormick said. "Let the committee know we are worthy of a No. 1 seed."

Holy Cross (3-1), the champions of the Patriot League in an abbreviated spring season, had 199 yards of total offense but just 85 yards after halftime.

The SDSU defense had four sacks and eight tackles for loss in the win, paced by nine tackles from freshman linebacker Adam Bock.

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At center, South Dakota State's Ryan Van Marel and Reese Winkelman pressure Holy Cross kicker Derek Ng (35) on a field goal attempt in the first half of the Jackrabbits' FCS playoff game against Holy Cross April 24, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. Winkelman blocked the kick on the play. (Dave Eggen / Inertia Sports Media)
Dave Eggen/Inertia

Related Topics: FOOTBALLFCS FOOTBALL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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