Blue State: No. 1 South Dakota State cruises past No. 4 South Dakota in much-hyped rivalry clash

Oct. 28—VERMILLION — South Dakota State was sure to reinforce the in-state pecking order Saturday afternoon.

In one of the most anticipated games in the history of the South Dakota State and South Dakota rivalry, the Jackrabbits reminded everyone of its No. 1 ranking and perennial FCS power status, tossing aside the No. 4-ranked Coyotes 37-3 at the DakotaDome.

SDSU improves to 8-0 and 5-0 in Missouri Valley Football Conference play, snapping a two-game losing streak inside the Dome and extending its win-streak to 22. USD falls to 6-2 and 4-1 in MVFC play, suffering its first loss to an FCS opponent and adding an ugly blemish in an otherwise promising season.

And a fresh coat of blue dons the Rushmore State.

"We knew there was a bunch of hype this week, a lot of media was hyping this game up all week. And we just knew we wanted to come in here and make a statement," SDSU quarterback Mark Gronowski said. "We wanted to show that we are the number one team in the nation and just show what we're made of."

A bipartisan crowd of 9,458 inside the DakotaDome braved snowy conditions to watch South Dakota State absorb the hosting Coyotes' best shot, brush it aside, and flip the game into a lopsided win.

After USD opened the game with an early field goal and back-to-back defensive stops — which energized a packed student section and momentarily turned the Dome into a daunting home environment — it was the Jackrabbits who controlled the game.

Trailing 3-0, SDSU put together a 93-yard touchdown drive on 14-plays, driving the ball through the heart of the Coyotes' defense and setting the tone for the game's duration.

The Jacks were punishing on the ground, going for 266 rushing yards on 42 carries. Isaiah Davis ran for 73 yards on 17 attempts, while Amar Johnson added 66 yards and two touchdowns, including a pair of 20-yard scores. Johnson's first score put the visitors up two scores in the second quarter, the other extended SDSU's lead to 30-3 midway through the fourth, sending Coyote fans to the exits while chants of "Let's go Rabbits" echoed through the stadium.

USD mustered just 50 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Travis Theis led the Coyotes with 29.

"They blocked us and they tackled better than we did,' USD coach Bob Nielson said. "And that's that's a recipe for losing a football game, to get out-blocked and to get out-tackled."

Beyond the clear edge in physicality, SDSU looked the part of a No. 1 team with its execution in key moments. The Jackrabbits converted seven of 10 tries on third downs, many which proved back-breaking for USD's defense.

The Jacks converted on three third-down tries during its first touchdown drive, including an eight-yard completion from Gronowski to Johnson on third-and-5, which ended with a hard hit and targeting call on USD's Shahid Barros to extend the play and eject Barros from the game.

Early in the third quarter, with SDSU leading 17-3, Gronowski completed a 52-yard pass to Jaxon Janke on third-and-seven, bursting any remaining Coyote momentum and setting up a field goal. Gronowski finished an efficient 13-of-19 passing with an interception, steering the Jacks' offense to a complete showing.

"We're always trying to sustain drives and execute," SDSU coach Jimmy Rogers said. "We didn't start the way we wanted on offense. It just kind of happened that way and our leadership group was able to bounce back and respond and we were able to have success moving forward."

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' offense sputtered in its chances. Quarterback Aidan Bouman, who faced stark pressure from the SDSU front, threw two interceptions, both of which coming in Jackrabbits territory. The USD offense converted just four of its 11 third down tries, and big-catch opportunities from tight end JJ Galbreath and receiver Carter Bell in the first half each resulted in dropped passes.

"We didn't execute in those critical times," Nielson said. "They did a great job on third downs, stayed on the field, and we did a very poor job on third downs. And as a result, they put some drives together, and we had a hard time."

South Dakota State looks to carry its momentum into another rivalry matchup, this time at home against North Dakota State in the Dakota Marker game.

"We face ranked opponents almost every week, so I think we're kind of used (big games)," Jadon Janke said." In preparation, (take it) week by week, day by day. Take it as serious as possible. We're not overlooking anybody, especially the Bison."

South Dakota will vie to get back on track as it visits Southern Illinois next week.

"We have to put that chip back on our shoulder and get back to work," Nielson said. "We weren't our best today. We've played better and we can play better. And we will play better next week."