South Dakota State Beats Northern Arizona in Opening Round of the FCS Playoffs
South Dakota State ran all over the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Arizona Saturday night, gaining 343 yards on the ground, beating Northern Arizona 26-7 to advance to the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
The Jackrabbits will play at #3 seed Eastern Washington, December 7th at 3:00pm CST.
Junior Zach Zenner ran for more than 200 yards for the second time in three career playoff games, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Northern Arizona’s talented Zach, Zach Bauman, among the top ten FCS rushers this season was held in check by the SDSU defense, gaining 101 yards (35 on one play), mainly in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
The Lumberacks were without their head coach Jerome Souers, who missed the game because of complications from back surgery.
Neither team could muster much of any offense in the first quarter, with only SDSU crossing midfield. In all, seven drives for the Jacks and Lumberjacks to start the game ended in seven punts.
But things changed in the second quarter, as Bauman ran for a 35-yard gain to get the Lumberjacks into SDSU territory for the first time, before punting the ball back.
That lead to more offense on NAU’s next possession as Kyren Poe hit Dejzon Walker for a 36-yard gain to the Jacks 37. Three plays later, Bauman was in the end zone with the game’s first score – a 6-yard touchdown run – and it was 7-0 Northern Arizona.
The Jackrabbits seemed poised to match that score on their next drive, taking it all the way down to the NAU 23, but on what appeared to be Zenner touchdown run, the junior was separated from the ball by Marc Thompson at the one, Andres Battle fell on the loose ball in the end zone, killing the drive.
The Lumberjacks now had a chance to tack on another score, as they drove to the SDSU 7, but this time it was the Jackrabbit defense that stopped a drive, with Jack Sherlock picking off Poe at the 7, keeping the game 7-0.
This time the SDSU offense responded in lightning quick fashion, with a one play drive – a Zenner 87-yard touchdown run and it was 7-7.
Near the end of the half, the Jacks had a chance to take a lead into the locker room, but Austin Sumner’s pass into double coverage was tipped into the hands of battle in the end zone for a touchback, keeping it 7-7 at the break.
In the third quarter, the SDSU defense and special teams took over. An Ethan Sawyer punt was downed at the NAU 3, leading to a T.J. Lally tackle of Bauman in the end zone for a safety and the Jacks’ first lead of the game at 9-7.
It was part of a defensive effort that held the Lumberjacks to just 7 yards in the third quarter. The SDSU defense finished with 6 sacks and forced four turnovers.
Getting the ball back on a short field after the free kick, SDSU wasted little time getting back in the end zone, Zenner with a 34-yard touchdown run to up the score to 16-7. He finshed with 249 yards rushing, averaging better than 8 yards a carry.
The Jacks got a break later in the quarter, when it appeared that a drive had stalled at the NAU 43, but the Lumberjacks roughed Sawyer on the punt and SDSU got the ball back at the Lumberjack 16 and turned it into 3 points with a Justin Syrovatka 20 yard field goal to make it 19-7.
In the fourth quarter, the Jacks put it out of reach. With the NAU defense keying on Zenner and backup Reggie Gandy inside, Sumner called his own number outside, scampering for 26 yards to the Lumberjack 9. Gandy finished the drive with a 7-yard run to end the scoring.
Coming off of a solid performance throwing the ball at Youngstown State in the regular season finale, Sumner struggled thru the air Saturday, completing just four of his 19 passes for 56 yards.
The Jackrabbits (9-4) play on the red turf of Ross Stadium in Cheney, Washington in round two against another team from the big Sky Conference.
Eastern Washington (10-2) has the 3rd best passer in the nation in Vernon Adams, who has thrown for 4,059 and 46 touchdowns this season, for a team that averages 40 points a game.
The Eagles won the conference by finishing the season with a 8-game winning streak.