South Dakota State triumphs against Montana 23-3, secures back-to-back FCS championship titles

FRISCO, TEXAS - JANUARY 07: South Dakota State Jackrabbits players react during the second half against the Montana Grizzlies during the FCS Football Championship on January 07, 2024 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Zach Del Bello/University of Montana/Ge

Mark Gronowski ran for a touchdown and threw for another after halftime as South Dakota State won its second straight Football Championship Subdivision title, beating Montana 23-3 on Sunday.

The Jackrabbits (15-0) extended their overall winning streak to 29 games in a row, including their win over North Dakota State in last year's FCS game for their first national title.

South Dakota State had an impressive game-opening drive, but led only 7-3 at halftime. Gronowski, the quarterback starting his third FCS title game, then bulled into the end zone for a 10-yard score midway through the third quarter, and on the next possession threw a 23-yard TD to Jadon Janke.

Gronowski finished 13-of-21 passing for 175 yards and ran eight times for 62 yards. The Jackrabbits outgained Montana 372-273.


FRISCO, TEXAS - JANUARY 07: Nick Ostmo #26 of the Montana Grizzlies runs with the ball during the second half against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits during the FCS Football Championship on January 07, 2024 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Tommy Martin

Montana's 27 playoff appearances are the most in the second tier of Division I football. National champions in 1995 and 2001, the Grizzlies (13-2) have now finished as the runner-up six times, four under coach Bobby Hauck.

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This was the Grizzlies' first title game since 2009, when they were runner-ups for the third time in Hauck's first seven seasons. Hauck then left for FBS team UNLV and also was on staff at San Diego State before returning to Montana in 2018.

Less than two weeks after South Dakota State was crowned champions last year, John Stiegelmeier retired after 26 seasons as head coach. He was succeeded by defensive coordinator Jimmy Rogers, a former Jackrabbits linebacker who was captain of their first playoff team in 2009 — when they lost to Montana after blowing a 27-point lead.

Both teams had only one possession in the first quarter Sunday. Montana's opening drive spilled into the first play of the second quarter, when on its 15th play, running back Eli Gillman was stuffed by Jackrabbits linebacker Adam Boch for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

South Dakota State had opened the game with a 75-play, 11-play drive. Gronowski completed his first five passes for 55 yards and converted a third-and-4 with a 9-yard keeper right before Isaiah Davis' 6-yard TD run.

That put the Jackrabbits ahead to stay, though they had a couple of costly mistakes before halftime.

A few plays after Boch's stop, one of his 11 tackles, Gronowski had a pass intercepted by Corbin Walker that Montana turned into a field goal for its only points. South Dakota State also had a turnover when punting, as the ball ricocheted off one of its players and recovered by the Griz, though they punted it back.

The takeaway 

Montana: Playmaking quarterback Clifton McDowell, who had been 11-0 as the Griz starter, was under increased pressure, especially after halftime. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 165 yards, but was sacked four times. After he was stripped of the ball when being sacked late in the third quarter, 295-yard defensive tackle Ryan Van Marel came up with the ball.

South Dakota State: In their third title game appearance in four seasons, the Jackrabbits became the first team since North Dakota State (2017-19) to repeat as champions. It was another stellar defensive performance in this playoff run for South Dakota State, which had two lopsided shutout victories (41-0 and 59-0) in its previous three games.

Up next 

Montana: The Big Sky champion Grizzlies take on one of SDSU's Missouri Valley Conference rivals in their 2024 opener. They host Missouri State on Aug. 31.

South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits open next season on the road Aug. 31 at Big 12 team Oklahoma State, the first major conference team they will play since a 7-3 loss at Iowa of the Big Ten in the 2022 opener that was their last loss.