South Dakota State opened the 2024 FCS National Championship with a touchdown drive and never looked back in a 23-3 win over Montana to win their second consecutive FCS Championship. SDSU used a suffocating defensive effort by holding Montana to 84 total yards in the second half to seal the title.
The offense was far from overwhelming as Mark Gronowski went 13 for 21 with 175 yards, two total touchdowns (1 pass and 1 rush), and an interception. Isaiah Davis had 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while Gronowski added 53 yards on the ground. The offense did what it needed to do and the defense came up with big plays including three turnovers that left the Montana offense sputtering.
The final score wasn’t representative of a close first half that featured uncharacteristic mistakes by the defending champions. The Jackrabbits took the opening drive down the field in a methodical and effective drive that ended with Isaiah Davis’s five-yard scamper to give SDSU a 7-0 early lead.
Montana had an excellent response of their own by going down the field and threatening to score. The Grizzlies reached the SDSU one-yard line on the final play of the first quarter and went for it on fourth down to open the second quarter. The Jackrabbits’ Adam Bock made a fantastic individual play to stop Eli Gillman inches short of the goal line.
Following the stop, SDSU moved the ball up the field but a rare Gronowski interception led to three points for Montana. After forcing a punt, the Jackrabbits committed another turnover. The ball hit one of the returners with Montana jumping on the ball but the Grizzlies were unable to convert the recovery into points.
The second half was dominated by South Dakota State and fueled by numerous miscues from Montana. The Grizzlies’ opening second-half drive reached midfield but a fumble on a tackle from behind gave the Jackrabbits the ball. SDSU couldn’t cash in on the turnover although it wasn’t long until they extended their lead. On their next offensive series, Gronowski hit Zach Heins for 34 yards on a third down and he finished the drive himself with a 10-yard touchdown run to make it a 14-3 game.
A three-and-out by Montana gave way to yet another great opportunity for South Dakota State, which they took full advantage of. Gronowski hit Jadon Janke for a 23-yard touchdown and the lead was up to 20-3 following a botched extra point.
On the ensuing offensive play for Montana, Clifton McDowell had the ball stripped on a hit by Cade Terveer and SDSU’s Ryan Van Marel made the recovery. The Jackrabbits tacked on a field goal to make it a 23-3 lead. Montana made a push deep into SDSU territory to start the 4th quarter but penalties led to them turning the ball over on downs. A scoreless fourth quarter was highlighted by a commanding SDSU defense that was intent on making sure the Grizzlies didn’t score any more points.
For Montana, it was another agonizingly close return to the summit of FCS football. The Grizzlies haven’t won the FCS Championship since 2001 and sit 2-6 all-time in the title game. Bobby Hauck has made four title game appearances without a win but it may not be long until he breaks through. Hauck is responsible for the program’s last four appearances, which includes an 8-year break between head coaching stints for the Grizzlies.
South Dakota State (15-0 overall; 8-0 MVFC) becomes the fifth FCS program to win back-to-back national championships following Georgia Southern (1985-86; 1989-90; 1999-2000), Youngstown State (1993-94), Appalachian State (2005-07), and North Dakota State (2011-15; 2017-19). The Jackrabbits have won 29 games in a row since a 7-3 loss at Iowa on September 3, 2022. The Jacks gave former head coach John Stiegelmeier a fitting send-off by winning the title in 2022 and opened Jimmy Rogers‘ coaching career with a perfect start in 2023.
Photo Credit to South Dakota State University Athletics