Matthew Putney/Associated PressSouth Dakota State has reached the FCS playoffs in nine consecutive seasons. However, the Jackrabbits haven’t made it past the semifinals during that stretch. But that could change Saturday.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 FCS football season was pushed back to this spring. The semifinal matchups of the playoffs are taking place Saturday, with the winners advancing to the championship game May 16. South Dakota State is facing Delaware, with the winning team moving on to face the winner of the Sam Houston State-James Madison matchup for the national title.
The Jackrabbits have 10 playoff wins during their postseason streak, but this will be the first time they have faced the Fightin’ Blue Hens in a playoff game. As the higher seed, South Dakota State will host this contest at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
Here’s everything else you need to know heading into the South Dakota State-Delaware matchup.
Date: Saturday, May 8
Start Time: noon ET
Spread: South Dakota State (-8)
Over/Under: 37.5 total points
Moneyline: South Dakota State -435 (bet $435 to win $100); Delaware +300 (bet $100 to win $300)
South Dakota State’s offense has been on a roll of late, as the Jackrabbits have scored 27 or more points in each of their past four games. That includes a 31-3 win over Holy Cross in the first round of the FCS playoffs and a 31-26 victory over Southern Illinois in the second round.
Although South Dakota State lost one game during the regular season (a 28-17 defeat at North Dakota on Feb. 27), its 5-1 record was strong enough for it to earn the No. 1 seed in the FCS playoffs. The Jackrabbits won the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s automatic bid and were awarded the top seed for the first time in program history.
On offense, South Dakota State has been led by true freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski, who has passed for 1,387 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 540 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s been part of a balanced ground game that also features junior running back Pierre Strong Jr. (577 yards and two touchdowns) and true freshman running back Isaiah Davis (570 yards and seven touchdowns).
“The offense has started playing with more confidence,” Gronowski said, per Marcus Traxler of the Mitchell Republic. “Only we can stop ourselves…we’re playing better as a unit.”
However, the Jackrabbits are going to have to find ways to score against a strong Delaware defense. The Fightin’ Blue Hens rank second in the FCS this season (minimum two games played) with only 223 total yards allowed per game.
Delaware is 7-0 and allowed a maximum of 14 points in five of its victories, including both of its playoff wins—a 19-10 victory over Sacred Heart in the first round and a 20-14 win over Jacksonville State in the second round. The latter was an upset, with the Fightin’ Blue Hens going on the road and kicking off the No. 4 overall seed.
Now, Delaware’s defense will look to carry over the momentum from that impressive performance by trying to find a way to shut down Gronowski, who was the Offensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in the MVFC.
“Our confidence level is what’s helping us right now,” Hens redshirt sophomore safety Noah Plack said, per Matt Zimmer of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “I feel like it’s gonna be really tough for anyone to come and beat us.”
Delaware’s offense is powered by redshirt senior running back Dejoun Lee, who was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Offensive Player of the Year. Lee has rushed for 555 yards and six touchdowns this season.
This is only the second time that South Dakota State and Delaware have faced off, with the previous matchup coming in 2010 (which the Fightin’ Blue Hens won 26-3). This time, the stakes are much higher.
While South Dakota State has never reached the championship game of the FCS playoffs, Delaware last made it in the 2010 season. The Fightin’ Blue Hens have also won six national titles but only one in the FCS era (2003).
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