By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Mark Gronowski threw three touchdowns passes and ran 51 yards for another one as South Dakota State won its first national championship with a 45-21 win Sunday over North Dakota State, which lost for the first time in its 10 FCS title game appearances.
As a true freshman two seasons ago, Gronowski tore the ACL in his left knee on the opening series of the Football Championship Subdivision title game. Now nearly 20 months after a loss in that unprecedented spring finale, and after the quarterback missed the entire 2021 season, the Jackrabbits (14-1) beat their border-state rival for the biggest prize in coach John Stiegelmeier’s 26th season at his alma mater.
Amar Johnson rushed for 126 yards and Isaiah Davis had 119 for his ninth 100-yard game this season, and both scored touchdowns for South Dakota State. Gronowski, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 223 yards, had his scoring run on the third play of the second half to stretch the lead to 38-14.
Cam Miller was 17-of-26 passing for 256 yards with two TDs and two interceptions for the Bison (12-3), who went from Fargo to Frisco for the 10th time in 12 seasons.
The Jackrabbits have won the last four meetings between the Missouri Valley Football Conference rivals, all in less than two years. The previous three had been in regular-season games for the Dakota Marker trophy that wasn’t up for grabs in the MLS soccer stadium nearly 1,000 miles from the border of their states. It was their 114th meeting since 1903, but only the fifth in the FCS playoffs and first in the championship game.
South Dakota State’s only previous FCS title game appearance was a last-minute loss to Sam Houston State in May 2021 after the lower-division season was pushed back to the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Jackrabbits beat NDSU in that abbreviated regular season, then again later that fall before a 23-21 win last October after overcoming a 21-7 halftime deficit in the Fargodome.
Johnson’s 32-yard TD run broke a 7-all tie early in the second quarter. The Jackrabbits got the ball right back when Steven Arrell stripped the ball from running back Kobe Johnson and Dalys Beanum at the Bison 34. Gronowski hit wide-open Jaxon Janke for an 18-yard TD four plays later — Janke also had a 30-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
There was an exchange of 44-yard touchdowns passes right before halftime. On a third-and-1 play, Gronowski went forward like he was going to try to run for the first down when he instead stopped for the line and threw to Mike Morgan all alone behind the entire defense. Miller then hit Eli Green for a 44-yard TD.
North Dakota State: The Bison have a 44-4 record in the FCS playoffs, and missed a chance to match the record of 45 wins by Georgia Southern, which is now playing at the FBS level. They have only 14 losses overall since 2011, when they won the first of their record nine FCS titles, and six of those losses are to South Dakota State — no other team has multiple wins over NDSU in that span.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have won a school-record 14 games in a row since opening this season with a 7-3 loss at Big Ten team Iowa.
North Dakota State opens the 2023 season on Sept. 2 in Minneapolis, one of the school’s largest alumni bases, against perennial FCS playoff team Eastern Washington.
South Dakota State still hopes to fill an open slot on its 2023 schedule for Labor Day weekend. As of now, the first set game is Sept. 9 at home against 2021 national runner-up Montana State, which the Jackrabbits beat in this season’s national semifinal game.
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