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South Dakota State football notebook: Jacks, Montana State coaches have been frequent foes prior to FCS semifinal

South Dakota State (11-3) and Montana State (11-2) will play on Saturday

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South Dakota State football coach John Stiegelmeier looks on from the sideline during an Oct. 23, 2021 Missouri Valley Football Conference game against Northern Iowa at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

The two head coaches in Saturday’s FCS semifinal playoff game will be meeting for the first time but South Dakota State’s John Stiegelmeier and Montana State’s Brent Vigen are plenty familiar with each other.

The two coaches and their teams locked horns on numerous occasions when Vigen was an assistant coach for North Dakota State in an era where the Jackrabbits and Bison became true rivals. Now the winner of Saturday’s 1 p.m. Central time contest in Bozeman, Montana, will go to the national championship game for a potential meeting with NDSU on Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas.

Stiegelmeier said Tuesday he doesn’t have to look hard to see the similarities of NDSU teams past in the current Montana State team.

“They play great defense. That’s always been a trait of the teams he’s coached, I know he’s always been an offensive coach but that’s been a trait of the teams he’s been a part of,” Stiegelmeier said. “They want to run the football, that’s always been part of his program. To see where that program is with a new coaching staff … that’s a credit to the head coach that he went in there and somehow, some way said, ‘I believe in you. Believe in me.’ It’s evident that’s happened. Where a lot of coaches don’t do that, they make guys earn their keep, and they get rid of guys because they didn’t recruit them.”

Stiegelmeier said he looks forward to coaching against someone he knows and has battled over the years.

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Vigen, who played at North Dakota State from 1993 to 1997, was a Bison assistant for more than a decade until Craig Bohl moved on to Wyoming after the 2013 season. Vigen took over as Montana State’s head coach in February and got the Bobcats quickly into gear with an 11-2 season, returning to the FCS semifinals after a 2019 loss to North Dakota State. Montana State did not play football during 2020-21 due to COVID-19.

“They’ve been on the doorstep for a long time,” Vigen said of SDSU. “(I have) a lot of respect for what he’s done for that program. We had a lot of back and forth in my time at NDSU. We’ve got our hands full. It’s not a surprise they’re a semifinal team … How they've played this year, this is where they belong.”

Some of South Dakota State’s most veteran players — including center Wes Genant, linebacker Logan Backhaus and defensive tackle Xavier Ward — played in both of the last meetings between the Bobcats and Jacks. SDSU won 31-27 at Montana State on Sept. 9, 2017, followed by a 45-14 win over the Bobcats in Brookings on Sept. 8, 2018.

The two teams are on each other’s schedules again in the near future, with Montana State coming to Brookings in 2023 and playing again in Bozeman in 2025.

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South Dakota State University football coach John Stiegelmeier looks on during a timeout at the Jacks' FCS semifinal playoff game against Delaware on Saturday, May 8, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell Republic file photo

Stig says he’s back for more

Stiegelmeier also made some news on Monday with the announcement of a two-year contract extension that now plans to keep him on the SDSU sideline through 2025.

The coach is currently in the best era of SDSU football in school history, with 10 straight playoff appearances and 11 in the last 13 seasons. Saturday’s game at Montana State will represent the fourth national semifinal appearance in the last five seasons, with SDSU falling in its first national championship appearance in May by a 23-21 score against Sam Houston.

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Stiegelmeier, 64, smiled on Tuesday at the idea that the team’s successes made the contract decision easy. He said he consulted with his wife, Laurie, who encouraged him to sign the contract because coaching still makes him happy.

Stiegelmeier is 185-110 as the Jacks’ head coach, a role he’s held since 1997. He has worked uninterrupted on the SDSU coaching staff since 1988.

The financials of Stiegelmeier’s new contract were not announced. According to state budget documents, Stiegelmeier was already the state’s highest-paid collegiate coach, scheduled to make $306,000 in salary in the 2021-22 school year. University of South Dakota coach Bob Nielson was scheduled for a salary of $300,800.

Both coaches’ salaries are emblematic of the growth of the Division I football budgets. Stiegelmeier’s salary has doubled in the last nine years, as he made $150,010 in 2012-13, while Nielson’s predecessor — Joe Glenn — made $127,260 for that season, according to the Mitchell Republic’s records.

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South Dakota State's Pierre Strong Jr. carries the ball during the first half of the Jackrabbits' game with Southern Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 at Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Awards season

Tuesday brought more season-ending awards to SDSU running back Pierre Strong, Jr. and tight end Tucker Kraft, who were named to the Associated Press Football Championship Subdivision All-America teams.

A senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, Strong leads the FCS with 1,592 rushing yards, averaging 113.7 yards per game and seven yards per carry. He has scored 17 rushing touchdowns and also has thrown for four scores for a Jackrabbit squad that has advanced to the FCS semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons. Strong has topped the 100-yard mark in nine of 14 games this season to move into third place in career rushing at South Dakota State with 4,433 yards.

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Kraft, a sophomore from Timber Lake, was a second-team honoree on the AP honor squad. He emerged as a top receiving target for the Jackrabbits in 2021, catching 59 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns so far this season.

Genant was recognized Tuesday by the Missouri Valley Football Conference as a first-team all-academic selection.

A Parkston native who is in his first semester of graduate school, Genant has a 3.90 grade-point average and studies human biology as part of his plan to be a physician. The 2021 fall season is his sixth on the SDSU roster and Genant has played each season. He is in line to play his 64th game as a Jackrabbit on Saturday and his 53rd start on the offensive line.

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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