BROOKINGS, S.D. – Mark Gronowski threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third and top-seeded South Dakota State dominated fourth-seeded Montana State 39-18 on a frozen field Saturday in the FCS semifinals.
The Jackrabbits (13-1), who have won 13 straight, head to Texas next month for a Missouri Valley Football Conference showdown with third-seeded North Dakota State (12-2). SDSU beat the defending national champion Bison 23-21 on Oct. 15.
Gronowski led South Dakota State to touchdowns on its first five drives with a balanced offense that had 281 yards rushing and 192 passing.
On the other side, the Jackrabbits’ nation-best rushing defense (85.4 yards a game) held the nation’s best rushing offense (331.8) to 52 yards.
The game started with the temperature at 10 degrees and the wind chill at minus-7. It was the coldest game ever played at South Dakota State.
It was the third straight semifinal for the two teams. SDSU avenged a 31-17 loss last year at MSU.
The teams swapped touchdowns on their opening drives and then the Jackrabbits scored three straight touchdowns, shocking the Bobcats with two long scoring runs for a 28-9 lead at the half.
Gronowski, who had a 36-yard hookup with Tucker Kraft to open the scoring, capped a 12-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge on the second drive. That gave him a rushing and passing TD in the same game nine times this season.
Gronowski finished 10-of-13 passing for 189 yards and Davis ran for 158.
Montana State’s top two rushers, quarterbacks Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers, were non-factors. Chambers (850 yards) scored on the Bobcats’ first possession but injured an ankle on the 1-yard plunge and watched the rest of the game with a boot on. He had 12 yards on five carries. Mellott (1,065 yards), who had a 10-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, had 3 yards on 17 keepers.
The two schools with the longest current playoff appearance streaks — NDSU at 13, SDSU at 11 — now have a rematch in Frisco, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 8.
South Dakota State lost to Sam Houston in the 2020 spring championship, it’s only appearance in the title game. Gronowski suffered an ACL injury in that game and did not play last fall. North Dakota State is 9-0 in the finale, beating Montana State 38-10 to cap last season.
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