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Walter Payton Award candidate Zach Zenner rushed for a school-record 295 yards and a career-best three touchdowns, pacing 19th-ranked South Dakota State to a 58-10 victory over No. 25 Eastern Illinois in opening-round action of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs Saturday afternoon at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium.
In recording their first-ever playoff victory, the Jackrabbits improved to 9-3 overall. SDSU will travel to top-seeded North Dakota State next Saturday (Dec. 1) for a 3 p.m. contest at the Fargodome. Eastern Illinois, the champion of the Ohio Valley Conference, ended its season 7-5 overall.
After being forced to punt on their first three drives, the Jackrabbits broke into the scoring column late in the first quarter as Zenner broke through the defense for a 68-yard touchdown run.
Moments later, Winston Wright intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass and returned the ball 20yards to the EIU 22. Justin Syrovatka connected on a 22-yard field goal to push the Jackrabbit lead to 10-7 with 2:25 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Panthers moved the ball deep into Jackrabbit territory on a drive that bridged the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second. The 13-play, 66-yard drive stalled at the 2-yard line and EIU had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Cameron Berra.
From there it was all Jackrabbits, who made it scores in six consecutive drives by scoring on all four second-quarter possessions. Zenner scored on runs of 4 and 7 yards before Syrovatka kicked a 29-yard field goal with a minute remaining to push the SDSU lead to 27-3.
The Jackrabbit special teams unit got in the act seconds later as Andrew Brown blocked an Eastern Illinois punt that eventually led to SDSU taking over at the Panther 3-yard line with nine seconds remaining. A delay of game penalty pushed the Jackrabbits back to the 8, but Austin Sumner connected with Cam Jones in the back of the end zone on the final play of the half to increase the Jackrabbit lead to 34-3.
Zenner rushed 24 times for 246 yards in the first half and the Jackrabbits continued to churn out yards on the ground in the second half.
Syrovatka’s third field goal of the day, a 28-yarder, accounted for the only points of the third quarter.
The landslide continued in the final quarter with SDSUscoring touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Reserve running back Reggie Gandy scored on runs of 1 and 12 yards and Jones added a 5-yard run.
Eastern Illinois’ lone touchdown came with 10:39 to play as Jake Walker scored on a 4-yard run.
As a team, the Jackrabbits ran for 434 yards on 53 attempts — an average of 8.2 yards per carry. Zenner’s 295 yards came on 33 carries. Gandy also finished with a career high, rushing 16 times for 151 yards.
Sumner finished the afternoon 13-of-28 passing for 146 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Rollin led Jackrabbit receivers with five catches for 44 yards.
Overall, SDSU held a 580-366 advantage in total offense.
Garoppolo ended the afternoon 25-of-41 passing for 221yards. Fellow Walter Payton Award candidate Erik Lora led all players with 12 receptions for 133 yards. Walker finished the day with 125 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Senior defensive lineman Andy Mink recorded a game-high eight tackles and forced a fumble to lead the Jackrabbit defense.
Courtesy: Jason Hove, SDSU
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