South Dakota State tops Montana State behind Zach Zenner's career day
BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Zach Zenner accounted for 324 all-purpose yards and scored a career-high five touchdowns to lead South Dakota State to a 47-40 victory against Montana State Saturday in the opening round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at a snowy Bobcat Stadium.
The Jackrabbits improved to 9-4 overall and will face No. 2 seed North Dakota State in second-round action on Dec. 6 in Fargo, North Dakota. Montana State ended its season 8-5 overall.
A Walter Payton Award candidate, Zenner tallied the first of four long scores on the second play from scrimmage and a mere 30 seconds into the game with a 45-yard touchdown run through the Bobcat defense.
Montana State countered with a 12-play, 72-yard drive that ended on a Chad Newell 3-yard touchdown run. A bobbled snap on the extra-point attempt kept the Jackrabbits in the lead at 7-6.
Zenner put the Jackrabbits ahead 14-6 with another quick-strike touchdown. This time, he took a swing pass from Austin Sumner and motored down the left sideline for a 69-yard score.
A Justin Syrovatka field goal from 21 yards out early in the second quarter extended the lead, and Zenner put the Jackrabbits out front 24-14 late in the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Montana State pulled to within 24-20 with nine-second remaining in the first half on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Dakota Prukop to Mitchell Herbert, then took its first -- and only lead -- of the day on the opening drive of the second half as Newell scored from 12 yards out.
The Bobcat lead lasted all of 38 seconds as Zenner went down the right sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run, giving SDSU a 31-26 lead following the Syrovatka PAT.
A 10-yard touchdown pass from Sumner to Connor Landberg with 10 minutes remaining in the game gave the Jackrabbits a 37-26 lead, and SDSU extended the margin to 14 points at 40-26 moments later by converting the only turnover of the game -- a strip-sack by Jack Sherlock -- into three points on a 30-yard field goal by Syrovatka.
Newell kept the Bobcats in the game with a 6-yard touchdown run with 4:14 to play, pulling Montana State to within 40-32 after a failed two-point conversion.
Zenner, who moved into third place on the FCS career rushing charts with 6,415 yards, finally put the game out of reach with a 69-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes and 10 seconds remaining in the game. Zenner, who posted his eighth career 200-yard game and third in a first-round FCS playoff game, finished the day with 252 rushing yards on 23 carries and added two catches for 72 yards.
Montana State put together a last-ditch effort in the waning moments as Newell scored his fifth touchdown of the game from 5 yards out and the Bobcats scored the two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game at 47-40.
Landberg came up with the loose football on an onside-kick attempt to seal the Jackrabbits’ third consecutive first-round playoff victory.
The two squads combined for 988 yards of total offense -- 526 for the Jackrabbits and 462 for Montana State. Sumner completed 19 of 28 passes for 249 yards, with Trevor Wesley catching six balls for 32 yards.
For Montana State, Newell tied a school record with his five rushing touchdowns and ended the day with 101 yards on 24 carries. Prukop completed 19 of 36 passes for 289 yards, with Shawn Johnson catching four passes for 59 yards and Mitch Griebel adding four catches for 51 yards.
Jesse Bobbit recorded a career-high 13 tackles to lead the Jackrabbit defense, with T.J. Lally and Nick Mearsadding eight each. Alex Singleton paced Montana State with nine tackles, including a sack.
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