South Dakota State rolls over Drake at Target Field – Twin Cities

South Dakota State, the current gold standard in FCS football, brought its swagger and a healthy number of supporters to the Twin Cities on Saturday to face Drake in the third college football game ever played at Target Field.

Ranked No. 1 in the FCS coaches’ poll, the defending national champions rolled to a 70-7 victory over the Bulldogs. With ticket prices ranging from $20 to $109, the game drew an announced crowd of 18,174 that was dominated by Jackrabbits fans.

But that support was not as dominant as South Dakota State proved to be on the field. Quarterback Mark Gronowski threw for five touchdowns and ran for another as the Jackrabbits improved to 3-0 in advance of the start of Missouri Valley Conference play. Drake is 0-3 as it gets set to start Pioneer Football League play.

South Dakota State amassed 618 yards of total offense while limiting Drake to 267, including only 47 on the ground. The Jackrabbits look poised to make another run at a national championship.

“We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done last year,’ said South Dakota State head coach Jimmy Rogers. “It’s all we read about, is how good we are. We have a lot of talent, but we know we have to prepare and be at our best every week. The Missouri Valley is hard to win in, and anybody can beat you.”

Drake took a 7-0 lead on the first possession of the game behind the arm of quarterback Luke Bailey. He connected on a 53-yard pass to Colin Howard on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Three plays later, he found Howard on a 35-yard touchdown pass.

South Dakota State tied the game on its first possession, going 75 yards in four plays, with running back Isaiah Davis taking a short pass and scoring from 23 yards out.

The Jackrabbits took a 14-7 lead with four minutes to play in the first quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Gronowski to tight end Kevin Brenner. A 13-yard touchdown pass from Gronowski to tight end Zach Heins increased South Dakota State’s lead to 21-7 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

A 61-yard punt return by Tucker Large set South Dakota State up on the Drake 18-yard line on its next possession, and when Amar Johnson carried the ball in from the 1-yard line, the rout was on.

Gronowski added an 18-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Wilde before the end of the half for a 35-7 Jackrabbits lead.

While Drake was disappointed it was not able to make it a more competitive game, it joined South Dakota State in being appreciative of the opportunity to play at Target Field.

For Drake head coach Todd Stepsis, the moment hit him when he stepped out of the Twins’ dugout onto the field.

“We talked a little bit about it,” he said, “wondering if the pros — if it ever gets old. Seeing that sight and taking that in. So the experience itself was fantastic.”

Gronowski spoke of it being surreal playing on a baseball field.

“It’s been one of my dreams since I was a kid watching Northwestern play at Wrigley Field,” he said. “Getting this type of opportunity is a once in a lifetime kind of thing.”

For Rogers, the experience was made all the better by the strong showing by “Jackrabbit Nation.” He also pointed out that South Dakota State recruits Minnesota hard, so being able to put on a good show at Target Field can only help with trying to make an impression on the local talent.

“Every time you can be on a national stage at a national venue, it makes a big difference,’ Rogers said. “Kids want to come play for a place that really cares about football. When you have the opportunity to do this, it shows that South Dakota State cares about their athletics, South Dakota State cares about their football program.

“We were able to come out of it with a win, which is always a plus.”

Briefly

The first Target Field game was played in 2017, when an announced crowd of 37,355 watched St. Thomas edge St. John’s, 20-17. In 2019, North Dakota State beat Butler 57-10 before an announced crowd of 34,544.

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