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Stan Becton | | January 4, 2023

FCS championship: How South Dakota State and North Dakota State reached the title game

South Dakota State vs North Dakota State: FCS championship preview and prediction

After a wild 2022 season, FCS football will crown a champion when South Dakota State and North Dakota State battle Sunday afternoon. As the Jackrabbits and Bison near the pinnacle of the sport, let's take a look back at their journeys.

North Dakota State Bison


Regular season

North Dakota State finished the regular season 9-2 with only one FCS loss. That FCS loss was to rival South Dakota State. However, the Bison bounced back from that loss with four straight wins to close the regular season. 

CHAMPIONSHIP SET: SDSU-NDSU rivalry heads to Frisco

FCS playoffs

North Dakota State opened its 2022 playoff run with two dominant wins. First, the Bison defeated Montana by 23 points in the second round. Then, the Bison shut out Samford for the first three quarters before winning the game 27-9.

Semifinal round

The Bison won a thrilling 35-32 semifinal game over No. 7 UIW. North Dakota State rallied from a 16-0 deficit for its largest comeback since 2008. Bison running back Kobe Johnson ran for three touchdowns, including the game-winner, while safety Dawson Weber grabbed two interceptions, including the game-sealing pick.

MORE: Why North Dakota State can win the title

Bison Schedule

Opponent Win/Loss Score Ranking Record
vs. Drake W 56-14 No. 1 1-0
vs. North Carolina A&T W 43-3 No. 1 2-0
at Arizona L 31-28 No. 1 2-1
at South Dakota W 34-17 No. 1 3-1
vs. Youngstown State W 27-14 No. 1 4-1
at Indiana State W 31-26 No. 1 5-1
vs. No. 3 South Dakota State L 23-21 No. 1 5-2
vs. Illinois State W 24-7 No. 4 6-2
at Western Illinois W 56-17 No. 4 7-2
at Southern Illinois W 21-18 No. 4 8-2
vs. No. 23 North Dakota W 42-21 No. 4 9-2
vs. Montana W 49-26 No. 3 seed 10-2
vs. No. 6 seed Samford W 27-9 No. 3 seed 11-2
vs. No. 7 seed UIW W 35-32 No. 3 seed 12-2

Key players this season

  • QB Cam Miller
  • RB TaMerik Williams
  • RB Kobe Johnson
  • FB Hunter Luepke
  • OL Cody Mauch
  • OL Nash Jensen
  • DE Spencer Waege
  • LB James Kaczor
  • S Michael Tutsie
  • S Dawson Weber

North Dakota State made it to the FCS title game despite injuries to key players. Star fullback Hunter Luepke is out for the championship game, and running back TaMerik Williams is not listed on the depth chart ahead of the contest. Running back Kobe Johnson is coming off an injury if he plays. Nonetheless, the Bison offense has remained steady thanks to quarterback Cam Miller and a dominant offensive line.

Defensively, North Dakota State ranks near the top of the FCS, which has become an expectation during the dynastic Bison run. The front seven is always tough, and a veteran-laden secondary led by Michael Tutsie and Dawson Weber can make game-changing plays.

MUST-WATCH: 9 players to watch in the FCS title game

South Dakota State Jackrabbits


Regular season

South Dakota State lost its season-opening game to FBS opponent Iowa by four points. From there, the Jackrabbits won the remainder of their regular season games against FCS competition. One of those wins came against North Dakota State, giving South Dakota State its third straight Dakota Marker win.

RIVALRY: Memorable moments, all-time history of the NDSU-SDSU rivalry

FCS playoffs

42 points. That's how many points South Dakota State scored in its first two playoff games. The Jackrabbits dominated Delaware in the second round before using a 21-0 fourth-quarter run to pull away from Holy Cross in the quarterfinals.

Semifinal round

South Dakota State hosted No. 4 Montana State in the semifinal round in nine-degree temperatures. After each team scored on the first three possessions of the game, South Dakota State began to pull away. The Jackrabbits went on a 21-6 run across the second and third quarters. South Dakota State ultimately defeated Montana State 39-18 to win a semifinal rematch.

MORE: Why South Dakota State can win the title

Bison Schedule

Opponent Win/Loss Score Ranking Record
at Iowa L 7-3 No. 3 0-1
vs. No. UC Davis W 24-22 No. 3 1-1
vs. Butler W 45-17 No. 3 2-1
at No. 4 Missouri State W 28-14 No. 3 3-1
vs. Western Illinois W 34-10 No. 3 4-1
vs. South Dakota W 28-3 No. 3 5-1
at No. 1 North Dakota State W 23-21 No. 3 6-1
at North Dakota W 49-35 No. 1 7-1
vs. Indiana State W 49-7 No. 1 8-1
at Northern Iowa W 31-28 No. 1 9-1
vs. Illinois State W 31-7 No. 1 10-1
vs. Delaware W 42-6 No. 1 seed 11-1
vs. No. 8 seed Holy Cross W 42-21 No. 1 seed 12-1
vs. No. 4 seed Montana State W 39-18 No. 1 seed 13-1

Key players this season

  • QB Mark Gronowski
  • RB Isaiah Davis
  • WR Jaxon Janke
  • WR Jadon Janke
  • TE Tucker Kraft
  • TE Zach Heins
  • OL Garret Greenfield
  • OL Mason McCormick
  • DL Caleb Sanders
  • DL Reece Winkelman
  • LB Adam Bock
  • CB Dyshawn Gales
  • P Hunter Dustman

From preseason evaluations to the title game, South Dakota State has been one of the most talented teams in the country. On offense, the Jackrabbits are loaded at the skill positions and can attack opposing defenses in multiple ways. Even in the trenches, Garret Greenfield and Mason McCormick are two All-American-caliber players.

South Dakota State's defense only allows 15.43 points per game, ranking among the best in the FCS. Caleb Sanders is an All-American on the interior defensive line, while Adam Bock and Dyshawn Gales are some of the best in the country. Don't overlook punter Hunter Dustman either. He often flips the field with each punt.

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