FRISCO, TEXAS (KELO) — Sunday, May 16 is a day that will be remembered for South Dakota State football and their fans, as they played in their first ever FCS National Championship.
SDSU allowed a touchdown pass with just sixteen seconds left in the game and that would be the difference as Sam Houston claimed a 23-21 win over SDSU.
“We were in zone defense and they called, without looking at the film, I’m not sure exactly, but I think they called an option route to the inside receiver and the quarterback is a good football player, and he threw it hard enough to beat the zone and the young man caught the ball right at the goal line and ended up scoring,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “I’m not second-guessing our coaches at all. I think the call was good, and we just didn’t make the play.”
“We called four verticals and basically Ife (Adeyi) was one of the inside receivers and he got body position,” Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler said. “We had an angle route I think off of that and I’m reminding Ryan, okay, have a fourth down play ready to go because for some reason if we get sacked or we don’t get in, we need to line up and call a play. I was probably more focused on that, we need to make sure we had a fourth down play ready to go and then just sort of ‘touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.’ Just kind of looked up and saw we had the touchdown.”
As the Bearkats celebrated their two point, FCS National Championship victory, the majority of Jackrabbit players stayed on the field and watched Sam Houston celebrate, a move that wasn’t planned.
“The only thing we designed is what we’d do if we won the championship. I kept trying to get our guys to go in, and they just, they wanted to sit and savor not the moment, because it wasn’t savoring the moment, but the feeling they had in their hearts of disappointment,” Stiegelmeier said. “Like I’ve said all along, it’s their football team, and some guys chose to stay out there, and I went in and talked to the rest of the guys on the team.”
“Sometimes you need that motivation, you know, like this is something I will never forget, coming so close, but yet so far and seeing them hold up that trophy,” SDSU senior defensive back Don Gardner said. “We really wanted that trophy, not only just for me but like for the scout players, Preston Tetzlaff, coach Stig and coach (Jimmy) Rogers. I felt like we came up short and we failed as a team. Just stuff like that is going to motivate us to get back here and be the one holding up that trophy eventually.”
The story coming into the game was the meeting of two really talented quarterbacks in Sam Houston’s Eric Schmid and SDSU’s Mark Gronowski.
That story of the game didn’t last very long as Gronowski left the game following the first drive of the afternoon.
“Our starting quarterback, Mark Gronowski, has a pretty serious injury. We’ll evaluate it more, but it’s a serious injury. I’m disappointed for him. But I’ll tell you what, our players learned a lot from him,” Stiegelmeier said. “To have that happen in the championship game and him to keep his head up and signal during the game and help his team try to win a game, a tremendous foundation of that young man.”
On the other side of the field, Sam Houston’s Eric Schmid was tremendous as he tallied 209 yards passing, 54 yards rushing and a total of three touchdowns.
“He’s the real deal. I was very impressed with how he played. You have to rejoice in guys’ play and compliment them at the end of the game,” Stiegelmeier said. “I’m disappointed in the loss, but that doesn’t take away from being a true sportsman and telling guys how you feel about them.”
Sunday’s loss concluded the 2021 spring football season. To call the season unique, may be an understatement. This extraordinary season featured COVID-19 postponements and cancellations, masks, fan restrictions and much more.
It was just another opportunity for SDSU.
“We didn’t have to play in the spring, we got to play in the spring. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but we embraced it. It wasn’t something that we questioned at all.”John Stiegelmeier – SDSU Head Coach
Similar to the season itself, this SDSU football team was unique. A talented group of players, coupled with a historical playoff run, helped lead the Jackrabbits to their first ever FCS National Championship appearance.
“How should our fans remember this? They should remember a bunch of guys that bonded together and gave everything they had,” Stiegelmeier said. “They gave time with their family in December, three weeks, gave up time in January, a week, to be with their teammates to work hard for this moment, for those few plays they got today.”
The Jackrabbits finished the year the year as the FCS runner-up and coach Stiegelmeier knows that is something to be proud of.
“Football is a fickle game, so yeah, we can play better, but I hope the Jackrabbit fans are proud of our program,” Stiegelmeier said. “If anybody fell short today, it was their head football coach.”
The Next Step
In a normal season, SDSU would have about 250 or so days in between their final game and the start of the next season.
However, 2021 has been anything but normal and with that being said, SDSU will have just 111 days from Sunday’s National Championship, to the 2021 fall season opener against Colorado State.
That means SDSU will only have 44% of the time that they normally would have. With that quick turn around, the Jacks will be back in the weight room just 22 days after their heartbreaking loss.
“We start lifting on June 7, organized lifting. I will meet with them Monday morning at 10 a.m. We’ll go over voting for our team awards and we’ll talk about the season and we’ll talk about the summer,” Stiegelmeier said. “I’m going to tell them if they need time off, just to come in and talk to me about why they need time off, and we’ve always done that, always have treated guys as individuals.”
Sunday’s loss may have put a hitch in SDSU’s giddy up, but they have plenty of talent coming back including every player, except linebacker Preston Tetzlaff.
“We’ve got 12 seniors coming back that are hungry and disappointed. We’ve got a bunch of young guys that had a taste of this. Football is hard work,” Stiegelmeier said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re back-to-back seasons from spring to fall or just the normal season. It’s hard work. It’s an unbelievable person that goes into that weight room and runs early in the morning and works a summer job and does his schoolwork for the chance to be one of the 11 guys on the field. Those are the kind of guys we have. They’ll be back real soon, I know that.”
The biggest question about the fall season is the uncertainty at quarterback following the injury to Gronowski.
The Jackrabbits will open the season against an FBS opponent as SDSU heads to Fort Collins, Colorado to meet Colorado State.
Their first conference game is scheduled for Saturday, October 9 in Brookings against Southern Illinois.