South Dakota State Starts Playoff Run with Mercer

(Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia)

South Dakota State begins defense of its national championship Saturday afternoon by hosting Mercer in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. Central Time at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The game will be televised exclusively on the ESPN+ streaming platform (subscription required).

The Jackrabbits, who are the top seed in the 24-team field and have been atop both major Football Championship Subdivision polls all season, enter Saturday’s game with an 11-0 overall record after earning the Missouri Valley Football Conference automatic bid after completing a perfect 8-0 mark in league play. SDSU, which received a first-round bye in making its 12th consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs, ended the regular season unbeaten and untied for the first time in the program’s 125-year history.

Mercer, which is located in Macon, Georgia, enters Saturday’s matchup with a 9-3 overall record, including a 6-2 mark in the Southern Conference. The Bears made their inaugural appearance in the FCS playoffs a successful one by downing Gardner-Webb, 17-7, on Nov. 25.

The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the quarterfinal round and face the winner between Youngstown State and eighth-seeded Villanova on either Dec. 8 or 9.

THE SERIES: Saturday’s game will mark the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between SDSU and Mercer.

The Jackrabbits have yet to face a current member of the Southern Conference. SDSU played four games against former SoCon member Georgia Southern between 2004-09, with the Jackrabbits winning the final meeting between the two squads, 44-6, on Sept. 12, 2009.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: South Dakota State is making its 14th postseason appearance in its football history, with 13 of those berths coming as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision. SDSU’s lone appearance in the NCAA Division II football playoffs came in 1979, when the Jacks dropped a 50-7 decision at Youngstown State.

The Jackrabbits have compiled an 18-12 record in the playoffs and are making their 12th consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs, including advancing to the semifinal round for the third season in a row and fifth time in the last six seasons en route to the 2022 national championship. SDSU made its first appearance in a national title game during the 2020-21 spring season, falling to Sam Houston, 23-21

SDSU has earned the top seed for the second year in a row and third time in four seasons. In both previous seasons the Jackrabbits were the top seed they advanced to the FCS national title game.

SWEET 16 IN THE MVFC: The 2023 season marked South Dakota State’s 16th as a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Since joining the league in 2008, SDSU is the only program in that span to not have a losing season in conference play.

The Jackrabbits hold a 92-34 record (.730 winning percentage) in MVFC games and have won six or more league games eight times. SDSU has now claimed the league title four times: previously earning a share of league titles in 2016 and during the 2020-21 spring season before running the table with an 8-0 record in conference play en route to outright conference championships in both 2022 and 2023.

YEAR 20 IN FCS: The 2023 season marks the 20th season South Dakota State has competed in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Since joining the Division I ranks in 2004, the Jackrabbits have compiled a 167-79 record (.679 winning percentage).

team of the week: South Dakota State was selected as the FedEx Ground FCS National Team of the Week after its 37-3 victory at No. 4/9 South Dakota on Oct. 28. The Jackrabbits’ 34-point margin of victory was the largest in the series by either program since 1963.

ELITE COMPANY: Heading into the 2023 postseason, South Dakota State is one of only two Football Championship Subdivision programs to reach the playoffs each of the last 12 seasons, including advancing to the national semifinals or championship game in four of the last five seasons. The Jackrabbits secured the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s automatic bid to the 2023 playoffs, assuring SDSU of its 12th consecutive postseason appearance and 13th overall at the FCS level.

MVFC rival North Dakota State holds the longest active streak with 14 consecutive trips to the playoffs after gaining an at-large berth to the 2023 tournament.

WINNING STREAKS CONTINUE: South Dakota State extended several winning streaks with its 35-17 victory over Missouri State on Nov. 18.

First, the Jackrabbits extended their overall winning streak to 25 games dating back to the 2022 season opener. SDSU has won 15 games against ranked opponents in that span, including three victories over North Dakota State and two each against North Dakota and Montana State.

SDSU also won its 17th consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference game and lengthened its current winning streak in home games to 18.

The Jackrabbits’ 25-game winning streak is the fourth-longest in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision, which dates back to 1978. The FCS winning streaks of 20 or more games are:

  • 39 games – North Dakota State (2017-20)
  • 33 – North Dakota State (2012-14)
  • 26 – James Madison (2016-17)
  • 25 – South Dakota State (2022-present)
  • 24 – Pennsylvania (1992-95)
  • 24 – Montana (2001-02)
  • 22 – Harvard (2013-15)
  • 22 – Sam Houston (2019-21)
  • 21 – Montana (1995-96)
  • 21 – Colgate (2002-03)
  • 20 – Holy Cross (1990-92)
  • 20 – Dayton (1996-97)

RANKINGS STREAK: By being ranked first in the Stats Perform FCS preseason poll and again in all 12 polls conducted through the end of 2023 regular season, SDSU has now appeared in the top 25 of 158 consecutive media polls dating back to October 2012.

The Jackrabbits have held the top spot in the poll for more than a year — taking over the top spot on Oct. 17, 2022, and keeping that ranking for the final seven surveys of the 2022 season. SDSU was a unanimous No. 1 selection to start the 2023 season to hold the top ranking in a preseason poll for the first time in program history.

CAPTAINS: Leading the Jackrabbit football team are six captains:

McCormick is in his third season as a team captain, while Bock, Greenfield and Gronowski are in their second seasons in the role. Davis and Gales are first-time captains.

MVFC AWARDS: Led by Co-Offensive Players of the Year Isaiah Davis and Mark Gronowski, 20 South Dakota State student-athletes combined for 21 spots on the 2023 All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Team, which was announced Monday.

Selections to the all-MVFC squad are determined by a vote conducted among the league’s head coaches, sports information directors and a media panel.

Davis, a senior running back from Joplin, Missouri, tallied a league-best 1,075 rushing yards during the regular season while ranking second with an average of 97.7 yards per game. Also a first-team all-MVFC selection a year ago, Davis scored 11 rushing touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry en route to five 100-yard games. In addition, he caught 18 passes for 159 yards (8.8 ypr) with one touchdown.

Gronowski, who also was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman during the 2020-21 spring season, ended the regular season leading the Football Championship Subdivision in passing efficiency with a mark of 184.08. The junior quarterback from Naperville, Illinois, completed 68.5 percent (159-of-232) of his passes for 2,359 yards and 23 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He rushed and passed for touchdowns in the same game seven times this season and tossed at least one touchdown pass in 10 of 11 games.

Davis and Gronowski were two of nine first-team selections from a Jackrabbit team that completed the regular season with an 11-0 overall record and went undefeated in league play for the second year in a row with an 8-0 mark.

Other first-team selections on offense were wide receiver Jadon Janke and the offensive line tandem of Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick.

Janke, a senior from Madison, came on strong down the stretch of the regular season to lead the team with 39 receptions, 677 receiving yards (75.2 ypg, 17.4 ypr) and 8 touchdowns. He caught two touchdown passes in a game three times and set a career high for receiving yards in each of the last two games with 166 yards Nov. 11 at Youngstown State and 187 yards on a career-best 10 receptions a week later versus Missouri State.

Both seniors, Greenfield and McCormick manned the left side of the offensive line at tackle and guard, respectively, helping pave the way for a Jackrabbit team that averaged 37.6 points per game. SDSU has averaged nearly a 50-50 split in offense between passing (226.9) and rushing (219.9) yards per game.

A native of Rock Valley, Iowa, Greenfield was named a first-team all-MVFC honoree for the third time while McCormick, a Sioux Falls native, repeated on the first team and earned his fourth overall selection.

The Jackrabbit defensive selections on the all-MVFC First Team were paced by senior linebacker Jason Freeman, who completed the regular season as the team leader in tackles with 72 (38 solo), including four tackles for loss and a half-sack. A senior from Zion, Illinois, Freeman also contributed two interceptions, two pass breakups and a pair of fumble recoveries for a unit allowing an FCS-best 11.3 points per game.

Joining Freeman on the first team were defensive end Cade Terveer and safety Tucker Large. Terveer, a senior from Brandon, tallied team highs of six sacks and seven tackles for loss. He notched at least a half-sack in each of the first league games en route to 19 total tackles.

Large, a sophomore from Sioux Falls, led the squad with three interceptions, while adding five pass breakups and 38 tackles. He also earned second-team all-MVFC recognition as a return specialist after averaging 16.3 yards per punt return. Large set an SDSU single-game record with 149 yards on four punt returns Sept. 16 versus Drake.

The final first-team selection went to all-purpose back Amar Johnson. A junior from O’Fallon, Missouri, Johnson ranked second on the team with 597 rushing yards and added 95 yards on 10 receptions. He also served as the Jackrabbits’ primary kickoff returner, racking up 282 yards in that category to give him a total of 974 all-purpose yards (88.6 ypg).

Headlining SDSU’s second-team honorees was four-time all-MVFC tight end Zach Heins. The senior from Sioux Falls repeated as a second-team selection in 2023 after ranking second on the team with five touchdown receptions after catching 20 passes for 293 yards. Heins previously was a first-team selection during the 2020-21 spring season and an honorable mention pick in the fall of 2021.

Also receiving second-team recognition from the Jackrabbit offense was fullback Mike Morgan and offensive lineman Gus Miller. Morgan, a senior from New Lenox, Illinois, contributed at both fullback and tight end, catching nine passes for 95 yards.

Miller, a junior from Brookings, started all 11 regular season games at center for the Jackrabbits, who allowed only eight sacks during the regular season.

Defensively, veterans Ryan Van MarelIsaiah Stalbird and DyShawn Gales were selected as members of the all-MVFC Second Team.

Van Marel helped solidify a Jackrabbit front four by registering 17 total tackles, including five tackles for loss and two sacks from his defensive tackle position. A senior from Sheldon, Iowa, Van Marel also recorded a pair of blocked kicks.

Stalbird ranked second on the team with 58 tackles (37 solo), including four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. A senior linebacker from Kearney, Nebraska, Stalbird also contributed an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a Jackrabbit unit that ranks second in total defense among FCS teams by allowing only 266.5 yards of offense per game.

Gales, a senior cornerback from North Chicago, Illinois, earned his second all-league selection after tallying 32 tackles (19 solo), three pass breakups and an interception during the 2023 regular season. Gales is a three-year starter.

Rounding out the Jackrabbits’ second-team selections were a pair of special teams performers in punter Hunter Dustman and long snapper Kaydon Olivia. A junior from East Bethel, Minnesota, Dustman averaged 46.1 yards on 21 punt attempts with a long of 62 yards during the regular season. He also tallied a team-high 90 points while performing the kicking duties.

Olivia, a sophomore from Schertz, Texas, handled all the long-snapping duties for a Jackrabbit squad that ranks in the top five of the FCS for net punting at 41.8 yards per attempt, while also going 13-of-18 on field goals and 51-of-53 on extra-point tries.

Completing SDSU’s list of all-league performers were three honorable mention selections: wide receiver Jaxon Janke, offensive lineman Evan Beerntsen and cornerback Dalys Beanum.

A senior from Madison, Janke joined his twin brother, Jadon, on the all-MVFC squad after ranking second on the team with 36 receptions and 602 receiving yards, while adding three touchdowns. He has a streak of 44 consecutive games with a reception and was honored at the conference level for the fourth time after three consecutive seasons of earning second-team accolades.

Beerntsen, a senior from De Pere, Wisconsin, became the fourth Jackrabbit offensive lineman to be named to the honor squad after starting all 11 regular season games at right guard.

Beanum recorded a team-best six pass breakups and intercepted a pass during the 2023 regular season. The senior from Omaha, Nebraska, also registered 25 tackles in earning honorable mention all-MVFC recognition for the second year in a row.

MODELS OF EFFICIENCY: South Dakota State has made 43 trips into the red zone so far this season and has come away with points 42 of those times. The Jacks have scored a touchdown on 36 of those trips — 24 rushing, 12 passing — with six field goals.

The Jackrabbits had a streak of scoring on 70 consecutive drives into the red zone come to end with an interception in the end zone early in the fourth quarter Oct. 21 at Southern Illinois. Before that, the last time SDSU did not score when inside the opponent’s 20-yard line was on a missed field goal in the second quarter of their Oct. 1, 2022, game versus Western Illinois. SDSU had scored 57 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals in that span.

In addition, the Jackrabbits lead the FCS ranks in both third-down and fourth-down conversions on offense. SDSU has converted on an FCS-best 55.4 percent (62-of-112) of their third-down attempts. SDSU finished above 50 percent in the first six games of the season before being limited to a 4-for-12 performance Oct. 21 at Southern Illinois.

On fourth down, the Jackrabbits have converted 7-of-9 times for 77.8 percent, including both attempts in the Nov. 18 regular season finale against Missouri State.

DEFENSE TRENDING UPWARD: Since the calendar flipped  — first to October, then to November — the SDSU defense has improved dramatically in both the number of turnovers forced and sacks.

Over the past seven games, the Jackrabbits have combined to force 15 turnovers — seven fumbles and eight interceptions — and have tallied 17 sacks. SDSU posted four sacks against both Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, while forcing a season-best five turnovers versus UNI.
The Jackrabbits’ seven fumble recoveries over the past six games nearly matches their season total from a year ago of eight in 15 contests.

Cade Terveer leads the sack artists with five over the past seven games, including 1.5 in the Oct. 14 Hobo Day victory over Northern Iowa. Twelve different players have registered at least a half-sack in the seven-game span.

BLOCK THAT KICK: South Dakota State entered its Nov. 4 matchup with North Dakota State without a blocked kick this season. That quickly changed when the Jackrabbits blocked a pair of kicks against their rivals to the north.

Ryan Van Marel came up with the first block as he got a hand on an extra-point attempt following the Bison scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Jarod DePriest did the honors for the second time in the game as he blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter after the Bison moved into scoring position with a 77-yard kickoff return.

Van Marel notched his second blocked kick in as many weeks as thwarted a 29-yard field goal attempt by Youngstown State in the second quarter of their Nov. 11 matchup. Van Marel’s block helped the Jackrabbits preserve a 34-0 shutout victory.

PICKING OFF THE COMPETITION: The Jackrabbit defense has continually taken the ball away from the opposition in recent seasons, including leading the Football Championship Subdivision in interceptions each of the last two seasons.

After leading the subdivision with 21 interceptions in 2021, SDSU tallied an FCS-best 18 interceptions last season, including two in the 2022 national championship game against North Dakota State. Jackrabbit defenders recorded at least one interception in each of their 11 regular season games, continuing that streak with an interception by DyShawn Gales in the Nov. 12 regular season finale against Illinois State. Gales went on to finish with a team-high four interceptions en route to all-MVFC honors.

The Jackrabbits also ranked sixth in turnover margin with an average of plus-1.07 turnovers per game after forcing 26 total turnovers compared to losing 10. SDSU held a 115-16 advantage in points off turnovers last season.

Dating back to the start of the 2018 season, the Jackrabbits have intercepted at least one pass in 61 of their last 77 games for a total of 100 pickoffs. SDSU tallied three interceptions in its 2023 season opener against Western Oregon (Colby HuerterTucker LargeKolten Tilford) and added two interceptions Oct. 14 versus Northern Iowa (Jason FreemanDyShawn Gales), Oct. 28 at South Dakota (Tucker LargeIsaiah Stalbird) and Nov. 4 versus North Dakota State (Graham Spalding, Freeman).

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: South Dakota State raced out to a 28-0 lead a minute into the second quarter of its Aug. 31 season opener against Western Oregon thanks to a pair of long interception returns for touchdowns by its starting safeties.

First, Colby Huerter hauled in an interception off a deflection by DyShawn Gales for a 54-yard return for touchdown. On the first play of the second quarter, Tucker Large picked off a pass deep over the middle and weaved his way through traffic for a 64-yard score.

It marked the fifth time in the Division I era of Jackrabbit football (since 2004) that SDSU returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. The others:

  • Sept. 29, 2007 vs. Stephen F. Austin – Jimmy Rogers (32 yards, Q2), Conrad Kjerstad (82 yards, Q4);
  • Nov. 10, 2007 vs. Southern Utah — Tyler Koch (45 and 99 yards in Q4);
  • Oct. 1, 2016 vs. Western Illinois – Christian Rozeboom (37 yards, Q3), Dallas Brown (19 yards, Q3);
  • Nov. 27, 2021 vs. UC Davis — Adam Bock (39 yards, Q3), Dalys Beanum (59 yards, Q4).

GROUND GAME SHINES: South Dakota State’s rushing attack was on full display over a three-game span as the Jacks combined for 999 yards on the ground.

That total surpassed the previous three-game high of 964 yards over the final two games of the 2018 regular season — 315 yards at Southern Illinois and 323 yards vs. South Dakota — and the first game of the FCS playoffs vs. Duquesne (326 yards).

SDSU’s rushing onslaught began with a 359-yard performance against Drake at Target Field in Minneapolis on Sept. 16. The Jackrabbits gained 266 yards on the ground in their Sept. 30 league opener against North Dakota, followed by racking up 374 yards Oct. 7 at Illinois State.

Isaiah Davis led the Jackrabbit rushing attack with 406 yards on 44 carries (9.2 ypc) over those three games with five touchdowns. Amar Johnson added 225 yards on 36 attempts (6.3 ypc) and a score, while Angel Johnson contributed 179 yards on only 11 carries (16.3 ypc) with three touchdowns.

Since moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008, the Jackrabbits are a perfect 20-0 when rushing for 300 or more yards in a game, including a 9-0 mark against league foes.

BOTH ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM: Heading into this week, the Jackrabbits rank in the top five of the Football Championship Subdivision in both scoring offense (fourth, 37.6 points per game) and scoring defense (first, 11.3 points per game). SDSU has scored 20 or more points in 24 of the 25 games in their current winning streak and has held the opposition to 10 points or less 10 times, including six times this season.

OWNING THE THIRD: South Dakota State has held a huge advantage coming out of the locker room at halftime by outscoring the opposition by an 86-14 margin in the third quarter of games so far this season. The only points allowed by SDSU coming out of the locker room to start the second half were touchdowns by Illinois State (Oct. 7) and Missouri State (Nov. 18).

SDSU had scored on its opening drive of the third quarter in five consecutive games until being forced to punt versus Missouri State. However, the Jackrabbits did score on their next drive of the third quarter in the Nov. 18 contest.

SPOTTING THE LEAD: Scoring first has mattered little during South Dakota State’s school-record 25-game winning streak. Jackrabbit opponents have drawn first blood 10 times in that span, including four games (Montana State, Drake, South Dakota, North Dakota State) this season.

The largest deficit faced by SDSU during its winning streak has been 14 points on two occasions, the last of which came against North Dakota in the squads’ 2022 meeting in Grand Forks. UND scored the first 14 points of the game before the Jackrabbits took control by scoring 42 of the next 49 points en route to a 49-35 win.

OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: South Dakota State put up its most points and total yards in a game since the 2018 season in its Target Field victory over Drake. The Jacks’ 70 points were the most since scoring a school-record 90 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sept. 15, 2018.

SDSU also racked up 618 yards of total offense against Drake for its highest total since a 656-yard day at Southern Illinois on Nov. 10, 2018.

In addition, the Jackrabbits accumulated another 252 yards on returns versus Drake — a school-record 179 yards on six punt returns and 73 yards on two kickoff returns.

SHARING THE WEALTH: Nine different South Dakota State players scored touchdowns in the Jackrabbits’ 70-7 victory over Drake on Sept. 16 at Target Field in Minneapolis. Angel Johnson was the lone Jackrabbit to score more than once as he found the end zone on runs of 21 and 66 yards in the second half.

Backup quarterback Chase Mason tallied the longest touchdown of the game with a 69-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, while Kevin Brenner — previously a defensive end for the Jackrabbits — scored his first career touchdown on his first collegiate reception, a 3-yarder late in the first quarter.

GRONOWSKI A DUAL THREAT: South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski reached one career milestone in the Jackrabbits’ Sept. 9 victory over Montana State and added another the following week against Drake.

On his 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of the game against Montana State, Gronowski topped the 1,000-yard mark for career rushing. One week later, Gronowski surpassed 5,000 career passing yards as he completed 18-of-25 passes for 226 yards and a career-high five touchdowns against Drake.

Gronowski is the third SDSU quarterback to top 5,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his career, joining Taryn Christion (11,535 passing/1,515 rushing from 2015-18) and Ted Wahl (6,016 passing/1,229 rushing from 1985-88). Gronowski ranks third in SDSU history with 6,891 passing yards and 8,096 yards of total offense.

He had a streak of passing and rushing for a touchdown in 11 consecutive games come to an end Oct. 21 at Southern Illinois, but has accomplished the feat in 21 of 36 career starts. The Jackrabbits have a 33-3 record in Gronowski’s 36 career starts.

A WINNING COMBINATION: Jackrabbit running back Isaiah Davis recorded his fifth 100-yard game of the 2023 season and the 21st of his career when he gained 130 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown Nov. 11 at Youngstown State.

SDSU improved to 20-1 in games in which Davis has topped the century mark, with the lone loss coming in the 2020-21 national championship game versus Sam Houston.

Davis reached a pair of milestones in the Nov. 18 victory over Missouri State.The Joplin, Missouri, native topped the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the second consecutive year, ending the day with 1,075 yards. Davis gained a team-best 1,451 yards in the Jackrabbits’ national championship season in 2022.

In addition, Davis became the fifth SDSU player to rush for 4,000 or more yards in a career, crossing that threshold with 4,045 yards entering postseason play.

Davis also had scored a rushing touchdown in 11 consecutive games dating back to last season. He extended his streak with a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the Jackrabbits’ Aug. 31 season-opening win over Western Oregon.

SCORING BINGE: South Dakota State senior wide receiver Jadon Janke has made up for some lost time in recent weeks with a total of nine touchdowns over the last seven games.

After being slowed by injury during the non-conference portion of the schedule, Janke has caught two touchdown passes three times since the start of October in games at Illinois State, versus North Dakota State and at Youngstown State. He also caught touchdown passed in the Oct. 14 Hobo Day game against Northern Iowa and Nov. 18 victory over Missouri State, while running for a score Oct. 28 at South Dakota.

Janke currently leads the team with eight TD receptions after setting single-game career highs with 10 receptions and 187 receiving yards Nov. 18 versus Missouri State. His recent scoring prowess has allowed him to pass his twin brother, Jaxon, for fourth place on the SDSU career TD catches chart with 28. Janke’s 187 receiving yards against Missouri State tied for the 10th most by a Jackrabbit in a game.

WILDE IMPRESSES IN DEBUT: True freshman Griffin Wilde (pronounced WILL-dee) finished as the Jackrabbits’ leading receiver in their Aug. 31 season opener versus Western Oregon. He opened the scoring with a 31-yard touchdown reception from Mark Gronowski and ended his collegiate debut with team bests of four catches and 79 receiving yards. A Sioux Falls native, Wilde added a second 31-yard reception in the second half to set up a Jackrabbit field goal.

Wilde continued his fast start to his collegiate career by being named Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week for his efforts in the Jackrabbits’ victory over Montana State on Sept. 9. He scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 35-yard catch and run with 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining as SDSU rallied for a 20-16 victory. He ended the night with two catches for 49 yards.

In the Sept. 16 victory over Drake, Wilde caught a touchdown for the third straight game to start his career, hauling in an 18-yarder in the second quarter.

Wilde, who was SDSU’s lone representative on the 2023 MVFC All-Newcomer Team, currently ranks fifth on the team with 16 receptions, while ranking second on the team with five touchdown catches. He also ranks third on the team with 299 yards receiving, highlighted by a career-long 49-yard touchdown Oct. 21 at Southern Illinois.

DEPTH ON DEFENSE: Whether based on philosophy or necessity, South Dakota State has built its standing as one of the top defenses in the Football Championship Subdivision by relying on its depth. Over the course of its 15-game schedule in 2022 22 different players earned a starting assignment on defense for the Jackrabbits.

Only nose tackle Ryan Van Marel and defensive end Cade Terveer started every game last season on the defensive side of the ball for the Jackrabbits last season and both return to the lineup in 2023.

EMPTYING THE BENCH: The Jackrabbits dipped deep into their list of reserves during the Aug. 31 season opener versus Western Oregon as a total of 76 players saw action in the contest. Offensively, eight Jackrabbits recorded a rushing attempt and eight players caught a pass. On the defensive side of the ball, 23 different players were credited with at least one tackle.

BOCK IS BACK: South Dakota State All-America linebacker Adam Bock has been limited to six games so far this season, but has made starts each of the last four weeks.

After missing the first three games of the season due to injury, the senior from Solon, Iowa, made his season debut in the MVFC opener against North Dakota on Sept. 30 and registered a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and the team’s first sack of the season.

Bock recorded double figures In tackles for the 12th time in his career as the Jacks limited UND to 68 yards on the ground.

However, Bock was again held out of the lineup in games against Illinois State and Northern Iowa before coming off the bench to record two tackles Oct. 21 at Southern Illinois.

With six tackles Nov. 18 against Missouri State, Bock upped his career tackles total to 313. He became the 12th player in program history to reach the 300-tackle milestone.

WILLIAMSON STEPS UP: With All-American Adam Bock sidelined by injury to start the season, Saiveon Williamson filled the role of middle linebacker without any dropoff in production.

A senior from Waseca, Minnesota, Williamson led the Jackrabbits during the non-conference portion of the schedule with 23 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup over three games. He currently ranks third on the team with 53 tackles after tying his career high with 11 stops Oct. 7 at Illinois State. Williamson also reached double figures in tackles with 10 against Montana State on Sept. 9.

Williamson also spelled an injured Bock the second half of the conference season and into the playoffs during the 2022 campaign. He finished with 37 tackles to tie for seventh on the squad, including a career-high 11 stops against Delaware in the Jacks’ playoff opener, followed by nine tackles the next week against Holy Cross.

DOUBLE-DUTY DUSTMAN: Junior Hunter Dustman has figured prominently in the Jackrabbits’ special teams efforts the past two seasons.

Dustman handled all of the kicking duties in the 2022 season opener at Iowa, punting 11 times for an average of 41.5 yards (long of 52) and scoring the Jackrabbits’ only points on a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter. Dustman’s 11 punts marked the most by an SDSU player in the Division I era (since 2004).

During the 2022 season, Dustman averaged 42.6 yards per punt and was 18-for-25 on field goals. He made 13 of his last 14 field goal attempts en route to 113 points.

Dustman has strung together a series of strong performances in recent weeks, earning back-to-back MVFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors Oct. 28 and Nov. 4, receiving the award for the third and fourth times in his career.

At Southern Illinois on Oct. 21, he punted four times for an average of 54.2 yards that included a 59-yard boot on his first attempt and a career-long 62-yarder later in the game. He also connected on a 44-yard field goal that gave SDSU a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter, capping a 15-play, 60-yard drive that consumed more than nine minutes.

Dustman booted three field goals, including a career-long 49-yarder, in the Oct. 28 win at South Dakota, then kicked a career-high four field goals Nov. 4 versus North Dakota State. His recent spree of field goals, including two last week at Youngstown State, has upped his career total to 32 in passing Adam Vinatieri (27 field goals from 1991-94) for seventh place in program history.

In addition, he averaged 44.6 yards on his 16 punts in league play this season.

SEEING DOUBLE: The 2023 edition of the South Dakota State football team features two sets of twin brothers.

Returning for their senior seasons are wide receivers and Madison natives Jadon and Jaxon JankeJaxon Janke has been the team’s leading receiver each of the past three seasons to move into Jackrabbit career top 10s for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, while Jadon Janke also began the 2023 season in the SDSU top 10 for receiving touchdowns.

Another pair of twins with South Dakota roots are junior linebackers Aaron and Adam Kusler. Aaron played in nine games last season, while Adam has contributed mostly on special teams and saw action in 14 of the team’s 15 games in 2022.

TWIN TOUCHDOWNS: Twin brothers Jadon and Jaxon Janke caught respective touchdown passes of 31 and 60 yards as part of a 20-point first quarter by SDSU Oct. 7 at Illinois State. It marked the eighth time in their careers the dynamic duo from Madison caught TD passes in the same game and the second time they accomplished the feat in the same quarter.

Jadon Janke added a second touchdown catch in the second quarter against Illinois State, covering 22 yards.

Following are the games in which both Jankes have caught touchdown passes:

  • April 24, 2021, vs. Holy Cross — Jadon (13/45 yards in Q2/3), Jaxon (11 yards in Q1);
  • Sept. 25, 2021, at Indiana State — Jadon (33 yards in Q1), Jaxon (42 yards in Q2);
  • Oct. 16, 2021, at Western Illinois — Jadon (8 yards in Q1, Jaxon (21 yards in Q3);
  • Nov. 20, 2021, vs. North Dakota — Jadon (17 yards in Q2), Jaxon (21 yards in Q3);
  • Sept. 17, 2022, vs. Butler — Jadon (17 yards in Q2), Jaxon (7 yards in Q1);
  • Sept. 24, 2022, at Missouri State — Jadon (3/40 yards in Q1/4), Jaxon (13 yards in Q3);
  • Dec. 10, 2022, vs. Holy Cross — Jadon (21 yards in Q4), Jaxon (18 yards in Q4);
  • Oct. 7, 2021, at Illinois State – Jadon (31/22 yards in Q1/2), Jaxon (60 yards in Q1).

THE 12TH MAN: South Dakota State has benefited from large crowds throughout the 2023 season, averaging 18,208 fans after coming off a national championship campaign.

The Jackrabbits drew their first of four sellout crowds this season when 19,332 fans came out for the Sept. 9 showdown against Montana State, which at the time tied for the second-largest attendance in the seven-year history of Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. The crowd played a big role in the game, helping factor in nine false-start penalties by Montana State in the game, including six in the final quarter.

The Nov. 4 Dakota Marker game against North Dakota State, which was a rematch from this past January’s FCS national championship game, drew a stadium-record 19,431 fans.

Two other crowds this season have reached sellout status, with 19,357 fans clicking through the turnstiles for the Oct. 14 Hobo Day game versus Northern Iowa and a total of 19,231 fans in attendance for the Sept. 30 league opener with North Dakota.

ACADEMIC SUCCESS: The South Dakota State University football program has maintained its tradition of excellence both on the field and in the classroom during its Division I history.

The Jackrabbits were recognized with the Missouri Valley Football Conference Team Academic Award each of its first nine years in the league.

Last season, several Jackrabbit football players were honored individually for their work in the classroom, highlighted by Reece Winkelman’s repeat selection to the College Sports Communicators Academic All-America First Team, which is made up of student-athletes from both NCAA Division I football classifications.

Winkelman, from Marshall, Minnesota, was selected with a 3.92 GPA as a graduate student in business economics. On the field, he was a first-team all-MVFC selection who racked up eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2022.

SDSU has placed at least one player on the Academic All-America squad in 16 of the last 18 seasons, including multiple selections 13 times. Overall, SDSU football student- athletes have received Academic All-America recognition from the College Sports Communicators 45 times since 1974.

During the 2021 season, Wes Genant became the only Jackrabbit football student-athlete to earn Academic All-America honors four times. Three-time selections include: Paul Kippley (1978-80), Kyle Minett (2008-10) and Zach Zenner (2012-14). Zenner was also honored as the 2014 Academic All-America Team Member of the Year.

The Academic All-America program recognizes the nation’s top student-athletes for their combined performances on the field and in the classroom. Candidates must be at least a sophomore in athletic and academic standing, a starter or key reserve on his team and carry at least a 3.5 GPA.

Earlier during the 2022 season, Winkelman was one of eight SDSU football student-athletes to earn recognition on the CSC Academic All-District squad. The others included:

Bock and Winkelman also were repeat first-team selections to the 2022 MVFC Scholar-Athlete Team.

Also earning a spot on the first team was Gronowski, while Janke and fellow wide receiver Canyon Bauer were second-team honorees. Closing out the team’s academic awards during the 2022 season were a total of 74 Jackrabbits receiving recognition on the MVFC Honor Roll for posting a GPA of 3.0 or higher during the fall term.

STAFF SHAKEUP: Besides a change at the top, several new assistant coaches donned the headsets for the first time as Jackrabbits during the Aug. 31 season opener against Western Oregon.

New coaches on the offensive side of the ball include Jake Menage (wide receivers) and Robbie Rouse (running backs). Additions to the defensive staff include Mike Banks (cornerbacks), Jalon Bibbs (defensive line) and Pete Menage (safeties).

Pat Cashmore also is a recent addition to the coaching staff and will direct the special teams units.

Returning for his second season as offensive coordinator is Zach Lujan, with Ryan Olson (run game coordinator/offensive line) and Chris Meyers (tight ends) providing further coaching continuity on the offensive side of the ball.

On defense, Jesse Bobbit is the lone coaching holdover as he moves into the coordinator’s role and also will coach the linebackers after mentoring the safeties in 2022.

Including Jimmy Rogers, five former Jackrabbit football players are full-time coaches at SDSU this season. The others are Bobbit, Lujan and both Menages, who are cousins.

DANA J. DYKHOUSE STADIUM: Jackrabbit football moved into a new home in September of 2016 with the completion of Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The stadium, which was constructed in phases on the site of SDSU’s previous home field, Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, seats 19,340 spectators and cost $65 million to build.

Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium is being funded through private gifts and long-term revenue streams, including concessions and suite, loge box and ticket sales. Bonds are financing nearly two-thirds of the project’s construction, with the remaining dollars coming from private support. Lead gifts totaling $12.5 million from former Jackrabbit football player and Sioux Falls banker Dana Dykhouse and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford were announced in October 2013.

The stadium officially opened Sept. 8, 2016, featuring a concert by country music stars Luke Bryan, Little Big Town and Lee Brice as part of the Jacks Bash opening weekend. The first football game was two days later, on Sept. 10, when the Jackrabbits defeated Drake, 56-28.

SDSU has gone on to post a 50-7 record at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium during its seven seasons of operation, including an 11-1 mark in FCS playoff games. The Jacks’ current home winning streak is 18 games (including playoff games), with their last home loss a 26-17 setback to Northern Iowa on Oct. 23, 2021.

The Jackrabbits have gone undefeated at home three times while playing at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium: 2018 (7-0), 2020-21 spring season (5-0) and 2022 (9-0).

Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium was designed by Kansas City-based Crawford Architects, with the construction firm JE Dunn serving as the project manager at risk and Henry Carlson Company of Sioux Falls serving as general contractor.

The stadium won the 2017 Alliant Build America Award from the Associated General Contractors of America South Dakota Building Chapter.

JACKS IN THE PROS: In the opening week of the 2023 season, five former South Dakota State standouts were members of National Football League teams, continuing the Jackrabbits’ long tradition of developing players into pro prospects.

Headlining the list is tight end Dallas Goedert of the Philadelphia Eagles. After being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Goedert has gone on to record 286 receptions for 3,407 yards and 21 touchdowns in six seasons.

In helping lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl during the 2022 season, Goedert caught 55 passes for 703 yards and three touchdowns. Thus far in 2023, Goedert has tallied 38 receptions for 410 yards and two touchdowns, but is currently out with injury.

Linebacker Christian Rozeboom earned a Super Bowl ring with the Los Angeles Rams during the 2021 season. A member of the Rams’ practice squad in 2020, Rozeboom made his NFL debut with the Kansas City Chiefs early in 2021 before returning to Los Angeles and seeing action mostly on special teams for the Rams for the remainder of the regular season and postseason. Rozeboom played in all 17 games during the 2022 season and registered eight tackles.

Rozeboom currently ranks third on the team with 56 total tackles. He recorded his first career interception in the Rams’ Oct. 15 victory over Arizona.

For the first time since 1976, the Jackrabbits saw two players selected in the same NFL Draft following the 2021 campaign. Running back Pierre Strong was a fourth-round selection by the New England Patriots, while quarterback Chris Oladokun was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Strong went on to gain 100 yards on 10 carries and added seven receptions for 42 yards during his rookie season with the Patriots in 2022. He was traded at the end of the most recent training camp to the Cleveland Browns and has contributed 35 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, as well as three receptions for 38 yards and 120 yards on five kickoff returns, in action thus far in 2023.

Oladokun was released by the Steelers, but was assigned to the practice squad of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in 2022 and again at the start of 2023.

Another former Jackrabbits who made his NFL debut in 2022 was receiver Cade Johnson, who tallied a pair of receptions during regular season play for the Seattle Seahawks before hauling in three receptions for 39 yards in a playoff game. Johnson began the 2023 season on the Seahawks’ practice squad.

Going through his first NFL training camp in 2023 was tight end Tucker Kraft. A third-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers, Kraft has tallied four catches for a total of 20 yards thus far in his rookie season. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a 9-yard catch and run in a Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions.

In addition, wide receiver Jake Wieneke continues to play in the Canadian Football League. After three seasons with the Montreal Alouettes, Wieneke signed with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders for the 2023 season.

ROGERS SHOW: The Jimmy Rogers Radio Show airs throughout the 2023 season.

The weekly, hour-long show originates in front of a live audience once again at Cubby’s Sports Bar and Grill in downtown Brookings. Hosted by Tyler Merriam, the show airs along the Jackrabbit Sports Network, including flagship station WNAX 570 AM, and can be heard through the Jackrabbit app and online at

Please note that the show has shifted to Thursday nights due to conflicts with Jackrabbit basketball games.

Weekly segments include interviews with Jackrabbit coaches, student-athletes and others associated with SDSU football. Fans can submit questions through social media platforms and fans in attendance can register for weekly prizes.

A LOOK AHEAD: Should the Jackrabbits defeat Mercer, they will host a quarterfinal game against the winner between Youngstown State and eighth-seeded Villanova on either Dec. 8 or 9. Game date and time will be announced after the conclusion of all eight playoff games this Saturday.