#16 South Dakota State Cinches Almost Certain Playoff Spot with 42-13 Win at #15 Youngstown State
Before Saturday's must-win game at Youngstown State, South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier challenged his players to have their 'best games of the year' - and they responded in a big way - dominating #15 Youngstown State 42-13 to wrap up an almost certain FCS playoff spot for the second straight season.
On a snowy Ohio day that made throwing the ball tricky at times, the Jacks opted to do their damage running the ball, grinding out a season-high 302 yards rushing. Junior Zach Zenner with 186 of those (149 in the first half) to go with two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown.
SDSU went to Zenner early and often Saturday. Five carries on each of the Jacks first three scoring drives - one that ended with a Reggie Gandy 22-yard touchdown run, one that ended with an Austin Sumner to Zenner 3-yard touchdown pass, and one that started with a Charles Elmore interception and ended with a Zenner 6-yard touchdown run.
Throughout the first half, the Jackrabbits only made two mistakes.
The first was a punt that hit Austin Knowlton in the leg, allowing YSU to recover and later convert into a touchdown. The other allowing a one-play touchdown drive as Kurt Hess hit Martin Ruiz for a 63-yard score to make it 21-13 late in the second quarter.
But the Jacks responded right before halftime when Sumner hit Trevor Wesley for a 35-yard gain to the Penguin 23 yard line, and five plays later, with :40 left in the half, Sumner put SDSU back up by 15 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jason Schneider to make it 28-13 at the break.
Sumner was very efficient in the first half - 8-of-10 passing for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
In the second half, the defense made sure the Penguins weren't going to get any closer.
RC Kilgore picked off Hess on YSU's second possession, and SDSU converted eight plays later on a quarterback draw from Sumner covered seven yards, and the rout was on at 34-13.
The defense got the ball back again in the fourth quarter when Jack Sherlock sacked Hess on fourth down at the SDSU 46. The Jacks converted again, Sumner to Trevor Tiefenthaler for 32 yards to the 4, and then Zenner finished off the drive from the one to make it 42-13.
The Jackrabbits out gained the Penguins 472-213 in total offense and held the ball 36:51 compared to just 19:56 for Youngstown State.
Sumner finished 15-of-19 for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns, Schneider had 7 catches for 59 yards and a score.
The win moves South Dakota State to 8-4 on the season, 5-3 in Missouri Valley Conference play. In all, four teams (SDSU, YSU, Southern Illinois, and Missouri State) finished 5-3, but the Jacks have the inside track to the playoffs with 8 wins total. Southern Illinois only has seven and Missouri State 6. Youngstown State, despite finishing with an identical 8-4/5-3 record as SDSU is considered a long shot for post season play, finishing the year with a three-game losing streak.
South Dakota State will officially find out its playoff fate during Sunday morning's FCS Selection show on ESPNU at 10:30 Central.