South Dakota State’s John Stiegelmeier on Youngstown State Win, FCS Playoff Opener at Northern Arizona
All of the 'must win' talk going into last week's South Dakota State regular season finale at Youngstown State turned prophetic this week, as the Jacks' 42-13 win did, in fact, propel them into the FCS playoffs, as one of only two teams from the Missouri Valley Conference to make the field of 24.
Head Coach John Stiegelmeier told me he's happy his team had control of their own destiny, winning four straight down the stretch:
Before the game, Stiegelmeier challenged each player to have 'game of their life', and his team responded with a dominating performance, starting with the guys up front, including an offensive line that paved the way for a season-high 312 yards on the ground:
Offensively, quarterback Austin Sumner didn't throw the ball a lot, given the snowy conditions in Ohio, but when he did put it up, he was very effective, 15-of-19 for 170 yards and two touchdowns. He also added another score running and earned himself Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process:
While the offense continues to click right along, the SDSU defense has gotten downright stingy, allowing just 25 points in the last three games. The defensive turnaround has been a big key to the Jacks current four-game win streak. Coach Stiegelmeier says a lot of things go into the transformation of coordinator Clint Brown's group:
So it's off the the FCS Playoffs for the second straight year when South Dakota State (8-4) plays at Northern Arizona (9-2) Saturday night.
Last season, the Jacks opened the post season with a home victory over Eastern Illinois before falling to eventual national champ North Dakota State in round two.
Is there a different mindset on this year's team thanks to that post season experience last season?
Saturday's game will be played indoors at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, which is situated right at 7,000 feet above sea level. Stiegelmeier says his staff has a game plan in place to try and neutralize the effects of altitude:
This game will feature two of the top ten running backs in FCS, South Dakota State's Zach Zenner (2nd in the nation - 1,695 yards) and Northern Arizona's Zach Bauman (8th in the nation - 1,355 yards). The two Zachs get their yards in two very different ways:
Besides running the ball. one of the other keys to watch for Saturday is the Jacks offense on third down against the Lumberjacks defense.
NAU is one of the Big Sky's best, allowing teams to convert just 36% of the time, while SDSU has been moving the chains at a 57% clip during their four game winning streak:
South Dakota State is the fifth team from the Missouri Valley Conference to qualify for the FCS Playoffs with three or more conference losses, but the Jacks are the first to advance after losing back-to-back league games during the regular season. Overcoming adversity is one thing this team has learned this year:
Kickoff in Flagstaff is 7:00pm CST Saturday.
View the entire FCS Playoff bracket here.