FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Mark Gronowski threw three touchdown passes and rushed 51 yards for another as South Dakota State won its first national championship with a 45-21 win Sunday over North Dakota State, the first times in his 10 FCS title game appearances.
A true freshman two seasons ago, Gronowski tore the ACL in his left knee in the opening series of the Football Championship Subdivision title game. Now, nearly 20 months after a loss in that unprecedented Spring Finals and after the quarterback missed the entire 2021 season, the Jackrabbits (14-1) beat their Border States rival for the biggest prize of coach John Stiegelmeier’s 26th season his alma mater.
Amar Johnson rushed for 126 yards and Isaiah Davis had 119 for his ninth 100-yard game this season, and both had touchdowns for South Dakota State. Gronowski, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards, had his scoring streak in the third game of the second half to extend the lead to 38-14.
Cam Miller was 17 of 26, passing 256 yards with two TDs and two interceptions for the Bison (12-3), who went from Fargo to Frisco for the 10th time in 12 seasons.
The Jackrabbits have won the last four meetings between Missouri Valley Football Conference rivals, all in less than two years. The previous three had been playing for the Dakota Marker Trophy in the regular season, which was unwinnable at the MLS football stadium nearly 1,000 miles from their state line. It was their 114th meeting since 1903, but only their fifth in the FCS playoffs and first in the league game.
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South Dakota State’s only previous FCS title game appearance was a last-minute loss to Sam Houston State in May 2021 after the minor league season was pushed back to spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jackrabbits defeated NDSU that truncated regular season and again later in the fall before earning a 23-21 win last October after overcoming a 21-7 halftime deficit at the Fargodome.
Johnson’s 32-yard TD rush broke a 7-all tie early in the second quarter. The Jackrabbits got the ball right back when Steven Arrell brushed the ball past running back Kobe Johnson and Dalys Beanum in the Bison 34. Gronowski wide openly beat Jaxon Janke for an 18-yard TD four games later — Janke also had a 30-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
There was an exchange of 44-yard touchdown passes just before halftime. On a third-and-1 play, Gronowski moved forward as if trying to run for the first down when instead he stopped for the line and singlehandedly threw to Mike Morgan from behind all defense. Miller then hit Eli Green for a 44-yard TD.
THE TAKE AWAY
State of North Dakota: The Bison have a 44-4 record in the FCS playoffs and missed a chance to equal Georgia Southern’s record 45 wins, which now plays at the FBS level. They have a total of just 14 losses since 2011, when they won the first of their record nine FCS titles, and six of those losses went to South Dakota State — no other team has recorded multiple wins against NDSU in that span.
State of South Dakota: The Jackrabbits have won a school-record 14 straight games since the season opened with a 7-3 loss at Big Ten team Iowa.
North Dakota State will open the 2023 season on September 2 in Minneapolis, one of the school’s largest alumni bases, against perennial FCS playoff team Eastern Washington.
The state of South Dakota is still hoping to fill a vacancy in its 2023 schedule for Labor Day weekend. As of now, the first set game is home on September 9 against 2021 national runners-up Montana State, whom the Jackrabbits defeated in this season’s national semifinals game.