(STATS) – As the No. 5 seed of the FCS playoffs, South Dakota State didn’t quite get into the top two to guarantee itself home-field advantage through the semifinals.
But in the locker room last Saturday after SDSU booked a trip to top-ranked and defending FCS champion James Madison for its first-ever semifinal-round appearance, coach John Stiegelmeier reminded his players they still have a chance to prove their team is one of the two best in the nation.
The winner of Saturday’s game will face either No. 6 seed Sam Houston State or No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the FCS final on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas.
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“We started out the season and I asked our guys to have the goal of being a top-eight seed and they called me out as the head football coach,” Coach “Stig” remembered. “They said that’s not good enough. They said, ‘We want to be a top-two seed,’ and they said it with a serious look in their eyes. It wasn’t an arrogance and it wasn’t something that they didn’t think they had earned. So now they have a chance to kind of prove that against the No. 1 seed in the nation. I think it’s played out pretty special for these guys.”
South Dakota State (11-2), which has set a program record for wins in a season, features one of the top offenses in the FCS, ranked third in points per game (38.8) and 14th in yards per game (444.2). The Jackrabbits will have All-America tight end Dallas Goedert back in the lineup after the senior left with a lower-leg injury on the opening series of their 56-14 rout of New Hampshire in the quarterfinals.
They already beat Missouri Valley Conference rival North Dakota State 33-21 in the regular season as part of their seven-game win streak, and that has James Madison coach Mike Houston’s attention.
In the reigning FCS champ, the ‘Rabbits face the other fearsome defense in the FCS, one surrendering a national-low 10.3 points per game and led by senior defensive end Andrew Ankrah, the CAA Football defensive player of the year.
“Our goal is to go 1-0 (each week),” cornerback Jordan Brown said. “They’re in our way for the championship and that’s our goal.”
“This a very mature football team,” Stiegelmeier said. “There are some football teams that would go home and feel they’ve arrived. You know, 11 wins, semifinals and all that final four, that isn’t this football team. They’re going to be hungry, they’re going to work their tail off and anybody that would come to our practice would see a very serious, dedicated football team ready to take another step.”