Top-ranked South Dakota State scored three second-half touchdowns and survived a wild finish to outlast third-ranked Montana State, 20-16, before a sold-out Beef Bowl crowd of 19,332 Saturday night at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
The Jackrabbits, who took the lead for good on a 35-yard catch and touchdown run by freshman wide receiver Griffin Wilde, improved to 2-0 on the season and extended their school-record winning streak to 16 games. Montana State dropped to 1-1 overall.
The Bobcats controlled the first half, holding SDSU scoreless thanks to a stout defense and a ball-control, dual-quarterback offense that built a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession. After forcing a fumble on the Jackrabbits’ first offensive drive, MSU opened the scoring with a 10-play, 57-yard march. Tommy Mellott recorded a pair of 8-yard carries and completed a pair of passes for another 14 yards before turning the offense over to Sean Chambers, who rushed four times for 17 yards, ending the first scoring drive of the contest with a 2-yard run.
SDSU managed only 17 yards of total offense on nine plays in the first quarter and saw its struggles continue as the Bobcats extended their lead to 10-0 on a 27-yard field goal by Brendan Hall six minutes into the second quarter.
The Jackrabbits got the spark they needed on the first play from scrimmage of the second half when Amar Johnson scampered around left end for a 26-yard gain into Montana State territory. Six plays later, quarterback Mark Gronowski found the end zone from 20 yards out down the right sideline.
On their next possession, SDSU strung together an 11-play, 95-yard drive that lasted the final 5:55 of the third quarter and ended two plays and 45 seconds into the fourth quarter as Gronowski zipped a pass down the left hash to tight end Zach Heins for a 16-yard touchdown and a 13-10 lead.
However, SDSU missed the extra point as errors on special teams mounted in the fourth quarter. The Jackrabbits were able to overcome a 59-yard return by Marqui Johnson on the ensuing kickoff as Cale Reeder intercepted a Chambers pass over the middle.
Following the turnover, SDSU was forced to punt from the shadow of its own goal line and Julius Davis broke through to block Hunter Dustman’s attempt, which was recovered by Tayvian Williams at the 1-yard line. Chambers was stuffed shy of the goal line on each of the first two plays, first by Caden Johnson and then by the combination of linebackers Saiveon Williamson and Aaron Kusler, before the Bobcats were flagged for the second of what would be six false-start penalties going into the teeth of the Jackrabbit student section in the fourth quarter. Hall’s second field goal, this time from 19 yards, tied the game at 13-all.
After another Jackrabbit punt midway through the final quarter, the Bobcats regained the lead on a 24-yard field goal by Hall. The Bobcats converted on fourth-and-1 near midfield on the first set of downs, but three more false-start miscues forced MSU to again settle for a field goal with 2:04 remaining.
SDSU struck quickly to take the lead back, needing only two plays and 41 seconds to cover 75 yards. On the first play of the drive, Gronowski connected with Grahm Goering down the right sideline for 40 yards to the Bobcat 35. Then, Wilde caught a pass in the right flat from Gronowski at the line of scrimmage, made a group of Bobcat defenders miss and rolled into the end zone.
However, the game was far from over even though only 83 seconds remained on the clock. Taking over at their own 25, Chambers methodically moved the Bobcats into scoring territory with both his arm and his legs. With nine ticks left on the clock and the ball at the SDSU 24, Chambers fired a pass over the middle to the back of the end zone that was caught by Clevan Thomas Jr. Originally, the play was ruled a touchdown, but after a lengthy review, was overturned as Thomas was deemed to have caught the ball with both feet out of bounds with one second remaining.
MSU was later flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and Chambers’ final pass attempt of the night was under duress and fell short of the goal line, allowing the Jackrabbits to extend their home winning streak to 14 games dating back to the 2021 campaign.
SDSU finished with a 341-298 edge in total offense, including a 184-87 advantage through the air. Gronowski completed 13-of-22 passes for 184 yards with Jaxon Janke leading receivers with three catches for 28 yards. Wilde tallied two catches for 49 yards.
Isaiah Davis paced the ground game with 66 yards on 12 carries and added two catches for 22 yards.
Chambers ended the night with 90 rushing yards on 20 carries and converted 3-of-9 passing attempts for 53 yards. Mellott was a perfect 6-for-6 passing in the first half for 34 yards and contributed 46 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Williamson and Colby Huerter each registered game- and career-high 10 tackles for the Jackrabbits. Danny Uliulakepa, who forced the Jackrabbit fumble on a strip-sack in the first half, tallied a team-best seven tackles for Montana State.
The Jackrabbits travel to Minneapolis and Target Field for a Sept. 16 matchup against Drake. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
- Montana State leads the all-time series, 11-7, which has included meetings in the Football Championship Subdivision playoff semifinals each of the past two seasons
- SDSU has won five of the last six matchups
- The Jackrabbits improved to 35-21 in 56 Beef Bowl games and have won six in a row
- Jaxon Janke moved into third place on the Jackrabbit career receptions list with 199, passing Dallas Goedert (198 catches from 2014-17)
- Janke now has caught a pass in 36 consecutive games
- Wilde has scored a touchdown in each of his first two collegiate games
- Gronowski has passed and rushed for touchdowns in 16 of 27 career starts
- Gronowski took over fifth place in career touchdown passes at SDSU with 44, passing Ted Wahl (43 touchdown passes from 1985-88)
- Davis became the eighth back in SDSU history to rush for 3,000 yards and ended the game in seventh place on the Jackrabbit career charts with 3,055 yards, surpassing both Cory Koenig (2,990 yards from 2004-07) and es Tuma (3,018 yards from 1970-73)
- SDSU was held scoreless in the first half of a game for the first time since an Oct. 3, 2015, home matchup against North Dakota State
- The Jackrabbits’ missed extra point ended a streak of 139 consecutive made PATs dating back to late in the 2020-21 spring season
- Saturday’s attendance of 19,332 is tied for the second-largest crowd in stadium history, matching the total from Oct. 8, 2022, against South Dakota