FCS Playoffs: Christion, Jackrabbits Outlast And Outgrind Kennesaw State, Prevail 27-17

KSU DB Jace White tackles SDSU QB Taryn Chirstion (John Silas/MDJ Online)

KENNESAW, Ga. – South Dakota State surged to a 20-3 lead, and had to withstand a late Kennesaw State surge behind backup quarterback Daniel David, but late in the fourth quarter the Jackrabbits were able to close out a thrilling semifinal with a 27-17 victory.

After the Owls and Jackrabbits traded field goals in a misty first quarter, South Dakota State surged to a 17-3  lead by halftime in wet conditions. 

A touchdown catch by WR Adam Anderson over a defender in the left corner of the end zone on a fade route broke the tie, and after the SDSU offense got the ball back after an Owl turnover, a 9 play 68 yard drive ending with a 9 yard touchdown run by Pierre Strong, Jr. would give the Jackrabbits a two touchdown lead.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way,” Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon said. “It’s one thing if an opponent comes in and just beats you, but we beat ourselves to oblivion today. Turnovers, penalties and we didn’t tackle well.”

Near the end of the first half, things looked particularly grim when QB Chandler Burks, the Big South offensive player of the year, exited the game with an apparent arm injury.

But after SDSU PK Chase Vinateri would kick a 23 yard FG to make it a 20-3 lead, the Owls would rally behind QB Daniel David.

David led the Owls on a seven-play, 73-yard drive that was capped when the junior quarterback connected with WR Jake McKenzie on a 19-yard pass play with less than a minute expired in the fourth quarter.

Then, after forcing a South Dakota punt on the Jackrabbits’ next possession, Kennesaw State began a drive from its own nine-yard and moved the ball 91 yards in nine plays that culminated on a 1-yard run by David with 6:42 remaining and brought KSU to within 20-17.

“He came in and did a phenomenal job,” Burks said afterwards.  “He put the offense in winning positions. I think Daniel, like everyone, knows he has a bright future here. Collectively as a whole today it was just a glimpse of the things he can do.”

Up only 20-17, South Dakota State had to rely on a heroic grind in order to secure victory, and thanks to a critical, defining drive, they did so.

Facing third-and-12 from their own 33, QB Taryn Christion scrambled, rolled to the right and connected with WR Cade Johnson down field in the right flat for a 33-yard gain and fresh set of downs. Strong Jr. then picked up another first down before Christion ran a QB keeper up the middle, high-stepping a couple of would-be tacklers, for a 15-yard touchdown with 2:22 to play. The eight-play, 65-yard drive chewed up more than four minutes.

“I knew there was going to be a guy on my right side coming free, the o-lineman and the running back took care of the rest,” Christion said. “I was able to step up, avoid that guy, and then Cade just kept working, he came across the field and got open. He’s a heck of a player, he really made that play because if he didn’t keep working, then I am probably ending up scrambling for four or five yards, maybe, and not getting the first down.”

An interception by CB Logan Backhaus on the ensuing KSU possession sealed the Jackrabbit victory.

“I’m excited for these guys, they worked tremendously hard, the whole football program has,” South Dakota State head coach John Stegelmeier said after the game. “To go on the road in the playoffs and get a hard fought victory against a really good football team, I’m excited. I’d be in error if I didn’t say I’m excited to go to Fargo next weekend and play another game in the semifinals. I’m proud of these guys.”

South Dakota State’s win sets up an all-Missouri Valley Football conference semifinal next weekend in the Fargodome in the semifinals, with a trip to Frisco, Texas on the line and the FCS National Championship game.  The date and time of the upcoming semifinal game is TBD.