FACTS & STATS: Site: Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome (18,700) – Fargo,
North Dakota. Surface: AstroTurf’s GameDay Grass. Television: ESPN3.com.
Announcers: Wayne Randazzo, Pat Hill. Home Record: South Dakota State 5-1;
North Dakota State 6-0. Away Record: South Dakota State 4-3; North Dakota State
5-1. Conference: South Dakota State – Missouri Valley; North Dakota State –
Missouri Valley. Nicknames: South Dakota State Jackrabbits; North Dakota State
Bison. FCS Playoff Seeds: South Dakota State (not ranked); North Dakota State
(2nd). Series Record: North Dakota State (57-40-5). Last Meeting: November 1,
2014 (North Dakota State, 37-17 at North Dakota State). Series Streak: North
Dakota State has won the last six meetings. Head Coaches: South Dakota State –
John Stiegelmeier (18th season, 120-85 at South Dakota State and overall);
North Dakota State – Chris Klieman (1st season, 11-1 at North Dakota State; 2nd
season, 14-8 overall). FCS Playoff Records: South Dakota State 3-3; North
Dakota State 14-1. Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: South Dakota State 3
(2009, 2012-13); North Dakota State 4 (2010-13, National Championships in
2011-13). Current Playoff Streak: South Dakota State has split its last four
FCS playoff games; North Dakota State has won its last 12 FCS playoff games.
GAME NOTES: Two more Missouri Valley teams collide and South Dakota State
hopes to change its luck against North Dakota State’s three-time reigning FCS
champions, who have manhandled the Jackrabbits with defense in recent years.
NDSU has won the last six meetings, including 37-17 earlier this season, and
SDSU All-American running back Zach Zenner has been kept in check – this
despite him being on three straight 2,000-yard campaigns (he’s 114 yards shy
this season). He has rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries (3.7
yards per carry) in five career games against the Bison.
The Bison haven’t worn their traditional green jerseys in a home playoff game
since 2011, but, as the envy of FCS programs, they will break them out
Saturday. They have won all 10 FCS playoff games at the Fargodome.
Defensive end Kyle Emanuel, linebacker Carlton Littlejohn and safeties
Christian Dudzik and Colton Heagle are veterans of the NDSU postseason runs,
but the Bison no longer have 2011 national championship game MVP Travis Beck
after he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the regular-season
finale. Sophomore Nick DeLuca takes over Beck’s spot at linebacker.
An NDSU defense rested from a first-round bye is never good for opponents, but
Zenner is coming off one of his all-time best performances: 252 rushing yards,
324 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in a 47-40 first-round win in the
snow at Montana State. No doubt, he’s determined to change history against
The SDSU offense is so much more dangerous with a veteran leader, quarterback
Austin Sumner, under center. He won’t have to deal with falling snow as he
looks for his targets, led by wideout Jake Wieneke.
The Jackrabbits don’t want to play behind because NDSU is usually lights-out
in the second half. With running back John Crockett (1,425 yards, 16 total
touchdowns) and a more-seasoned Carson Wentz under center, the Bison are No. 1
in the FCS in time of possession (34 minutes, 19 seconds).
Not to be lost in all the NDSU excellence is its dominant set of kickers in
Adam Keller (school-record 23 field goals this season; 103 straight PATs) and
punter Ben LeCompte (45-yard average).
The winner will advance to play either Richmond or No. 7 seed Coastal Carolina
in the national quarterfinals.
PREDICTION: Zenner could write a story for the ages if he takes down North
Dakota State at the Fargodome. But the Bison have too much overall experience
in this big matchup and will leave the Jackrabbits emotionally spent. North
Dakota State, 30-21.