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Anthony Chiusano | NCAA.com | May 16, 2021

South Dakota State vs. Sam Houston: Preview, all-time history, how to watch the 2020-21 FCS championship game

Watch South Dakota State's trick play TD catch and run by QB

The top two seeds will square off for the 2020-21 FCS national championship today. No. 1 South Dakota State faces No. 2 Sam Houston in Frisco, Texas. Both schools are looking for their first FCS national title. 

Below is a full preview on Sunday's game and a look at both teams' paths to the national championship contest.

How to watch the 2020-21 FCS championship

Sunday's FCS championship game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on ABC. You can also stream the game and trophy presentation on ESPN3.

Follow live stats here as well as get live updates here throughout championship action. Click or tap here for the updated interactive bracket.

What to know about South Dakota State

South Dakota State earned its first No. 1 seed in program history this year after bookending its strong regular season with a Dakota Marker victory over three-time defending champion North Dakota State. After squeaking past Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals, SDSU blew by Delaware, 33-3, in the semifinals to book its first-ever trip to the national championship game.

Here's what to know about top overall seed South Dakota State.

  • 2020-21 record: 8-1 (5-1 MVFC)
  • Notable regular-season wins: at Southern Illinois, 44-3 (March 20); at North Dakota State, 27-17 (April 17)
  • Road through the playoffs: 31-3 first round win vs. Holy Cross; 31-26 quarterfinals win vs. Southern Illinois; 33-3 semifinals win vs. Delaware

Players to watch

Mark Gronowski: The South Dakota State QB was named MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and finished second in Jerry Rice Award voting, given to the top FCS freshman in the nation. In three playoff games, Gronowski is 31-of-52 with seven passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.

Pierre Strong Jr.: SDSU's leading rusher was actually on the passing end of Gronowski's trick play receiving touchdown in the semifinals against Delaware. Strong averages 92 all-purpose yards through the first three postseason games.

Logan Backhaus: The MVFC first-team linebacker leads the Jackrabbits in tackles this year, including 30 in three playoff games. Backhaus has three double-digit tackle games this season.

ALL-AMERICANS: 2020-21 Stats Perform FCS All-America Teams announced

What to know about Sam Houston

No. 2 seed Sam Houston is back in the national championship game for the first time since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2011-12. But the Bearkats are no strangers to deep playoff runs, reaching the semifinals four times since their last title-game loss (including this year).

Get to know Sam Houston below.

  • 2020-21 record: 9-0 (6-0 Southland)
  • Notable regular-season wins: vs. Southeastern Louisiana, 43-38 (Feb. 27); at Incarnate Word, 42-14 (April 17)
  • Road through the playoffs: 21-15 first round win vs. Monmouth; 24-20 quarterfinals win vs. North Dakota State; 38-35 semifinals win vs. No. 3 James Madison

Players to watch

Eric Schmid: Sam Houston's redshirt junior QB and the Southland Conference Player of the Year, Schmid has thrown for three touchdowns and rushed for three touchdowns in SHSU's playoff run so far. Schmid starred in the quarterfinals against North Dakota State, completing 25-of-37 passes and scoring the go-ahead rushing touchdown, before throwing his first two interceptions of the playoffs against James Madison.

Jequez Ezzard: Ezzard was the lightning rod in the Bearkats' three-touchdown comeback against JMU, breaking away for a 69-yard catch-and-run score and a 80-yard punt return touchdown. The first-team all-conference receiver and returner finished with four catches and 107 receiving yards in the semifinal win.

Jahari Kay: The senior defensive lineman and Buck Buchanan Award finalist leads the Bearkats with six sacks. Kay has 13 tackles and five tackles for loss in SHSU's three playoff games.

Key storylines for Sunday's matchup

Sam Houston proved just how lethal its offense could be in the semifinals, recovering from a 24-3 halftime hole to put up four second half touchdowns — in a span of 5:06 game time — to clinch a 38-35 comeback win over James Madison. But don't underestimate the Bearkats' defense, which stepped up big time amidst its offense's second-half flurry, ending the day with five sacks, including a critical one in the final minutes to set up a difficult game-tying field goal attempt by James Madison, which sailed wide left.

It was South Dakota State's suffocating defense that stood out in its 33-3 rout over Delaware in the first semifinals game. The Jackrabbits allowed just a first-quarter field goal before finishing with seven sacks and allowing only 1.5 yards per rush attempt. 

Sam Houston will be the first seeded opponent South Dakota State faces these playoffs. The Bearkats' home-run threat on offense has some potential for fireworks Sunday. But SDSU's strong offensive line and multi-faceted rushing attack could slow the game down just enough and help neutralize SHSU's dynamic pass rush. 

South Dakota State vs. Sam Houston: All-time history

South Dakota State became a Division I-AA member in 2004 and has since made 10 FCS playoff appearances. Sam Houston reclassified back in 1984 and have been to 12 postseasons. But Sunday's national championship game will mark the two teams' first head-to-head meeting in their FCS histories — regular season and playoff included.

All-time FCS national championship history

Before losing in this year's quarterfinals to Sam Houston, North Dakota State had won the past three national championships, and eight of the last nine titles — an FCS record. Georgia Southern (now an FBS member) is next with six FCS titles. See the full year-by-year championship history below.

RELATED: Schools with the most FCS national championships | Exploring NDSU's dynasty run

YEAR CHAMPION COACH SCORE RUNNER-UP SITE
2019 North Dakota State Matt Entz 28-20 James Madison Frisco, Texas
2018 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 38-24 Eastern Washington Frisco, Texas
2017 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 17-13 James Madison Frisco, Texas
2016 James Madison Mike Houston 28-14 Youngstown State Frisco, Texas
2015 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 37-10 Jacksonville State Frisco, Texas
2014 North Dakota State Chris Klieman 29-27 Illinois State Frisco, Texas
2013 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 35-7 Towson Frisco, Texas
2012 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 39-13 Sam Houston State Frisco, Texas
2011 North Dakota State Craig Bohl 17-6 Sam Houston State Frisco, Texas
2010 Eastern Washington Beau Baldwin 20-19 Delaware Frisco, Texas
2009 Villanova Andy Talley 23-21 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2008 Richmond Mike London 24-7 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2007 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 49-21 Delaware Chattanooga, Tenn.
2006 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 28-17 Massachusetts Chattanooga, Tenn.
2005 Appalachian State Jerry Moore 21-16 UNI Chattanooga, Tenn.
2004 James Madison Mickey Matthews 31-21 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
2003 Delaware K.C. Keeler 40-0 Colgate Chattanooga, Tenn.
2002 Western Kentucky Jack Harbaugh 34-14 McNeese State Chattanooga, Tenn.
2001 Montana Joe Glenn 13-6 Furman Chattanooga, Tenn.
2000 Georgia Southern Paul Johnson 27-25 Montana Chattanooga, Tenn.
1999 Georgia Southern Paul Johnson 59-24 Youngstown State Chattanooga, Tenn.
1998 Massachusetts Mark Whipple 55-43 Georgia Southern Chattanooga, Tenn.
1997 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 10-9 McNeese State Chattanooga, Tenn.
1996 Marshall Bob Pruett 49-29 Montana Huntington, W.Va.
1995 Montana Don Read 22-20 Marshall Huntington, W.Va.
1994 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 28-14 Boise State Huntington, W.Va.
1993 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 17-5 Marshall Huntington, W.Va.
1992 Marshall Jim Donnan 31-28 Youngstown State Huntington, W.Va.
1991 Youngstown State Jim Tressel 25-17 Marshall Statesboro, Ga.
1990 Georgia Southern Tim Stowers 36-13 Nevada Statesboro, Ga.
1989 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 37-34 Stephen F. Austin * Statesboro, Ga.
1988 Furman Jimmy Satterfield 17-12 Georgia Southern Pocatello, Idaho
1987 Louisiana-Monroe Pat Collins 43-42 Marshall Pocatello, Idaho
1986 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 48-21 Arkansas State Tacoma, Wash.
1985 Georgia Southern Erk Russell 44-42 Furman Tacoma, Wash.
1984 Montana State Dave Arnold 19-6 Louisiana Tech Charleston, S.C.
1983 Southern Illinois Rey Dempsey 43-7 Western Carolina Charleston, S.C.
1982 Eastern Kentucky Roy Kidd 17-14 Delaware Wichita Falls, Texas
1981 Idaho State Dave Kragthorpe 34-23 Eastern Kentucky Wichita Falls, Texas
1980 Boise State Jim Criner 31-29 Eastern Kentucky Sacramento, Calif.
1979 Eastern Kentucky Roy Kidd 30-7 Lehigh Orlando, Fla.
1978 Florida A&M Ruby Hubbard 35-28 Massachusetts Wichita Falls, Texas

* -- Stephen F. Austin's participation in 1989 championship vacated.

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