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South Dakota State pounds UAlbany, will play Montana-North Dakota State winner for championship

South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski
Posted at 8:04 PM, Dec 15, 2023

South Dakota State is headed back to Frisco, Texas.

The reigning FCS national champion Jackrabbits had little trouble in the semifinal round Friday, dominating UAlbany 59-0 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, S.D. South Dakota State will play either Montana or North Dakota State in the championship game on Jan. 7, 2024.

The Grizzlies and Bison play in a semifnal game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.

Against the Great Danes of UAlbany Friday, SDSU flexed its muscles from the opening possession. The Jacks took nearly 7 minutes off the game clock, capping an 11-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Mark Gronowski to Zach Heins. Gronowski completed 12 of 14 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone and Isaiah Davis added two rushing scores as SDSU built a 35-0 halftime lead.

But SDSU's offense wasn't even the headliner. The defense snagged three interceptions — one each for Tucker Large, DyShawn Gales and Dalys Beanum — on UAlbany's five first-half offensive possessions, and Large returned a punt for a touchdown. The Danes had just 117 total yards in the first half compared to 338 for the Jacks.

Halftime didn't do much to slow down the Jackrabbits. They poured it on in the second half, scoring 24 points, including another defensive touchdown on the Danes' first possession to start the third quarter. SDSU linebacker Isaiah Stalbird forced a fumble that fellow 'backer Jason Freeman recovered and returned 34 yards for a touchdown.

The South Dakota State defense limited UAlbany to 298 yards in the game and forced four total turnovers.

Offensively, Gronowski finished the game with 265 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-19 passing for the Jacks. Backup quarterback Chase Mason entered the game and threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Wilde.

SDSU rolled up 556 yards of offense — 336 through the air and 220 on the ground. Jadon Janke had six catches for 151 yards and a touchdown, Wilde had two catches for 85 yards and a TD, and Heins had four catches for 50 yards and two scores. Davis totaled 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.

South Dakota State (14-0) has won 28 consecutive games, its last loss coming on Sept. 3, 2022 at FBS Iowa. The Jacks' last FCS loss was at Montana State in the semifinals of the 2021 FCS playoffs.