South Dakota State rushed for a season-high 433 yards and tied a school record with six interceptions as the Jackrabbits advanced in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with a convincing 56-24 opening-round victory over UC Davis Saturday afternoon at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
In advancing to meet fourth-seeded Sacramento State, the Jackrabbits improved to 9-3 overall. UC Davis had its season end with an 8-4 overall record.
UC Davis held a pair of early leads, taking the opening kickoff and marching 60 yards on nine plays before settling or a 32-yard field goal by Isaiah Gomez two and a half minutes into the contest.
SDSU answered later in the quarter with a six-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Walter Payton Award finalist Pierre Strong, Jr. It was Strong’s 16th rushing touchdown of the season.
The Aggies regained the lead after taking advantage of the Jackrabbits’ lone turnover of the day. After a muffed punt was recovered by UC Davis at the SDSU 9, the Aggies converted on fourth-and-goal as C.J. Hutton caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Miles Hastings.
The Jackrabbit running game hit full stride on the ensuing drive in the second quarter, quickly moving 75 yards all on the ground on only four plays. Strong carried for 24 and 31 yards on the first two plays of the drive to set up an 18-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Davis.
On the next SDSU possession, Davis recorded attempts of 40 and 23 yards before Strong tossed his fourth touchdown of the season on a 10-yard throwback to quarterback Chris Oladokun down the left sideline.
The SDSU lead grew to 28-10 moments after the first Jackrabbit interception of the afternoon as defensive end Cade Terveer picked off a pass that was initially broken up by Cale Reeder. On the very next play, Oladokun found Jadon Janke open down the middle of the field for a 33-yard touchdown.
UC Davis cut the margin to 28-17 with a touchdown late in the first half as Ulonzo Gilliam plunged in from 2 yards out. Gilliam gained 73 yards on 10 carries and added game highs of eight receptions and 55 receiving yards.
Each of the Aggies’ first four drives of the second half ended on interceptions. The Jacks returned two for touchdowns. Buck Buchanan Award finalist Adam Bock stepped in front of a H. Rodrigues pass on the opening drive of the half and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown.
Don Gardner and Dalys Beanum picked off passes on the next two drives before Beanum came up with his third interception of the game midway through the fourth quarter, one he returned 59 yards for the score.
In between, SDSU tacked on two more offensive touchdowns. Zach Heins caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Oladokun after runs of 41 yards by Davis and a 20-yard scramble by Oladokun on third-and-19. The final Jackrabbit touchdown came on a fumble recovery in the end zone by offensive lineman Gus Miller after Strong was stripped of the ball just shy of the goal line.
Rodrigues scored the lone touchdown of the second half for UC Davis on a 15-yard run with four minutes remaining.
The Jackrabbits’ 433 rushing yards were one off the program’s playoff record set in 2012 against Eastern Illinois. Davis carried 15 times for a career-high 217 yards, while Strong added a season-high 172 yards on 19 carries.
Oladokun completed 8-of-17 passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Jadon Janke led the receiving corps with 41 yards on two catches. Overall, SDSU finished with a 532-402 advantage in total offense and averaged 8.9 yards per play.
Reeder led the Jackrabbits with eight tackles, followed by six each by Bock, Logan Backhaus and Isaiah Stalbird. Besides their six interceptions, SDSU also broke up seven passes.
The Jackrabbits’ second-round matchup at Sacramento State is scheduled for a 6 p.m. Pacific Time (8 p.m. Central) kickoff next Saturday (Dec. 4) at Hornet Stadium.