SDSU spring game: Offense edges defense as Jackrabbits' depth, young talent shine

Apr. 13—BROOKINGS — A crowd of about 1,000-plus showed up to the SJAC on Saturday for the South Dakota State football Spring Game, hoping to get a sneak peek at what the two-time defending national champions might look like as they go for the three-peat.

The game started with the defense spotted a 17-0 lead, creating a format where the offense had a set number of points they needed to get to for the win. They got it, winning 21-17.

But the final score is never the point in a spring game. It's mostly a chance for younger players or those competing for open jobs to show what they can do in a game situation, and in that regard, the Jackrabbits had a good day. Yes, there are holes to fill after a stellar graduating class moved on. The pieces are definitely in place to do so.

"It was a great spring overall," said quarterback Mark Gronowski, who played one series on Saturday and directed a touchdown drive. "We had lots of young guys that had to get acclimated. They don't have a ton of reps but we got those guys going and started getting connections with me."

That would be a reference to the offensive skill players, who are almost entirely new. Running back Isaiah Davis, tight end Zach Heins and receivers Jaxon and Jadon Janke are all moved on.

Amar Johnson is likely to be the No. 1 back next year, while Angel Johnson and Brendan Begeman, battling for carries behind him, both scored rushing touchdowns on Saturday. Begeman's was a 70-yarder (on an 80-yard field), putting an exclamation point on a strong spring for the Selby native.

Griffin Wilde had a 35-yard reception from Chase Mason, while Kentrell Prejean had five catches for 95 yards and tight end Davin Stoffel four receptions for 29 yards. Prejean had a 25-yard catch, 34-yard catch and 1-yard touchdown reception all on the same drive, while Mason completed 7-of-8 throws for 110 yards.

"I feel good about where we can be on offense," said head coach Jimmy Rogers. "Really excited about Wilde and Kentrell — he's gonna be the next Cade Johnson if he stays on this trajectory. With Chase, I'm confident if we put the right O-line in front of him that'll allow him to see things before the line collapses. He's an unbelievable talent."

Rogers and Gronowski both pointed to Stoffel and Brody Gormley as tight ends that will be impact players in the fall.

Ethan Vibert, Jalen Lee, William Paepke and Oklahoma transfer Marcus Hicks are all offensive linemen Rogers singled out for praise. Quinten Christensen and Colby Christensen will head into the summer with the starting tackle positions as theirs to lose.

On defense the Jacks showed a commitment to continuing to play a big rotation at all three levels, and a handful of new faces saw action and made plays.

Transfer cornerbacks Colby Humphrey (Northern Arizona) and Cody Cotton (Upper Iowa) both saw meaningful reps, while safety Trey Ridley, an early-arriving true freshman, intercepted a pass late in the game.

Bryce Hawthorne, Dawson Ripperda, Reis Kirschenman and Nick Wells drew praise at defensive end, while at linebacker Daeton Mcgaughy, Aaron Kusler, Cullen McShane, Joe Ollman, Bryce Johnson, Graham Spalding and especially Chase Van Tol all look like they'll see action alongside the returning Mike, senior Adam Bock.

"That's kind of the standard we've set and what we expect on defense," Rogers said. "We recruit really aggressively and try to develop these kids as fast as possible, and this is the result. You give them reps in game scenarios and you'll never really drop a beat."