BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — SDSU outscored Southern Illinois 21-6 in the second half of their quarterfinal matchup, which helped the Jackrabbits advance to the semi-finals.
South Dakota State is back in the FCS semi-finals for the third time in school history, though the team is still looking for their first ever national championship appearance.
“We don’t change anything. 1-0 today, 1-0 tomorrow, you have to tweak some schedules because of finals you have to tweak some schedules because of an 11:00 a.m. start,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “There is no tweaking and we haven’t talked about the two semifinal losses. Some of these guys were part of some of that, but we play in the present.”
The Jacks lost to James Madison and NDSU in the 2017 and 2018 FCS semi-finals, but the leadership of this years team could be just what the team needs to reach the championship.
“The leadership makes us different. They are the guys that laid down the seven goals for the season and so, the leadership, coupled with the vision for what they want, they’ve really accomplished six of the seven goals, for the most part,” Stiegelmeier said. “Obviously, everybody has it in the back of their mind or on a piece of paper to win a national championship, but we’re a ways from that. That is the other goal they had, so leadership is what I think has made us different.”
True freshman, Mark Gronowski has been solid for SDSU down the stretch as the Jacks own the nineteenth best scoring offense in FCS football.
“Football knowledge, I think he’s way ahead of his game with that and so with that comes confidence, with the confidence came some victories which built on it,” Stiegelmeier said. “Probably the most important thing and part of his recipe is the number of players, the entire football team that was behind him before he took a snap.”
SDSU enters the semifinal round rushing for more than 230 yards per game, which is sixth best in all of FCS.
“They’re supporting each other, because obviously when Pierre is running the ball, then Isaiah is not and the flip of that is the same,” Stiegelmeier said. “They’re both very supportive and I think that both of them have approached it right.”
The Jackrabbits are now preparing to face an unfamiliar opponent in Delaware. However, that unfamiliarity might help with game prep.
“I expect that they’re probably going to dig a little deeper into the film because they don’t know anything about Delaware and that will be good for us. It can only be positives when we do that,” Stiegelmeier said.
Delaware is back in the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010, the same year they finished as the FCS football runner-ups.
“In this tournament, every week that you win, you just become more and more relevant and there are a number of programs that have been very relevant here as of late,” Delaware head coach Danny Rocco said. “Those names are the names of the teams that we all recognize and they are the perennials that are in this tournament and winning games in this tournament. It’s been a while since Delaware has been really able to be in that group.”
The Blue Hens own the second best scoring defense in FCS at that showed in last week’s 20-14 win over Jacksonville State. Delaware held their opponent to just 200 yards while coming up with five sacks.
“We’ve managed the group really well with depth. We’ve got fresh guys in the game, so we’re playing with fresh guys and we’re creating enough different combinations that we are getting guys free and into the backfield,” Rocco said.
The Jackrabbits and Blue Hens will meet in Brookings on Saturday, May 8. Kick-off is set for 11:00 a.m.