Some may call them the team of destiny, but the elusive championship is no more. What could be sweeter than winning the program’s first Division I title? How about taking down your arch rival in “Fargo South”? That’s right, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are FCS National Champions after defeating the North Dakota State Bison 45-21 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Many wondered if and when it would be an all Dakota’s meeting in Frisco and January 8, 2023 it finally happened.
Some may not want to hear this, but the Jackrabbits proved they were the best team in the FCS. They just had to get out of their own way and sustain a playoff run that ended at Toyota Stadium. Easier said than done, no matter what anyone says. SDSU had suffered heartbreak the past couple of seasons falling in the National Championship Game, then the National Semifinals.
The first quarter was evenly matched with both teams exchanging scores. First the Jackrabbits scored on an Isaiah Davis 16-yard scamper to take a 7-0 lead with 9:12 remaining in the opening quarter. The drive lasted nine plays and was 85 yards. The Bison’s response was impressive, lasting six plays and 75 yards, ending in a game-tying touchdown. Cam Miller connected with Joe Stoffel on a 27-yard touchdown reception at the 6:31 mark of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Amar Johnson would get involved in the scoring action with a 32-yard touchdown carry, giving the Jackrabbits a 14-7 lead with 12:50 to go in the first half. On NDSU's ensuing drive Kobe Johnson would fumble the ball with SDSU recovering in plus field position at the 34 yard line. The drive would last four plays, capped off by an 18 yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski to Jaxon Janke giving SDSU a 21-7 lead at the 11:03 mark of the second quarter. NDSU would once again stall out and punt, only for the Jackrabbits to march down the field on a nine play 84-yard scoring drive. The Gronowski 44-yard touchdown pass to Michael Morgan would extend SDSU’s lead to 28-7 with 3:30 to go in the first half. North Dakota State would counter as the end of the half neared with an Eli Green 44-yard touchdown reception from Cam Miller with 2:03 left in the opening half, cutting the deficit for the Bison to 28-14. The Jackrabbits would march down the field and connect on a Hunter Dustman 30-yard field goal, extending SDSU’s commanding 31-14 halftime lead.
The Jackrabbits were able to double dip as they received the opening kickoff of the second half. They wasted no time marching down the field in three plays for 74 yards resulting in a Gronowski 51-yard touchdown run, extending the SDSU lead to 38-14 with 13:13 left in quarter three. That would be the only score of the third frame with both teams exchanging punts.
Late in the third quarter the Jackrabbits would punt and pin the Bison at their own 1-yard line. NDSU would take the ball the length of the field, capping off a 16 play 99-yard drive with a 9-yard Kobe Johnson touchdown run, changing the score to 38-21 with 13:44 left in the fourth quarter. SDSU would counter with the final dagger as Gronowski would connect on a second touchdown pass with Jaxon Janke, this time from 30-yards out. It ended with 8:05 to play in the game, concluding the four play 42 yard scoring drive extending the Jackrabbits lead to 45-21.
SDSU’s Mark Gronowski was named the games most outstanding player for his performance in helping lead the Jackrabbits to the programs first FCS National Championship. Gronowski completed 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. He also had five carries for 57 yards and a touchdown in the game.
The Dakota Marker may be the best rivalry in the Football Championship Subdivision and for the first time we were able to see it play out with a national title on the line. Now the question is… Will we ever see a Dakota Marker rivalry National Championship Game again?