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SDSU returns to FCS Championship game with win

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) — Mark Gronowski threw for three touchdowns, Isaiah Davis ran for two and Tucker Large returned a punt for a score — all in the first half — and defending national champion South Dakota State rolled back into the FCS championship game with a 59-0 win over Albany on Friday night.

After the dominant first half, Jason Freeman had a 34-yard scoop-and-score on the second play of the third quarter that made it 42-0 for the Jackrabbits.

That was the fourth turnover, to go with three turnover on downs, for the Great Danes, who were outgained by 221 yards in total offense in the first half.

Top-seeded South Dakota State (14-0), which has won 28-straight wins, faces the winner of Saturday’s game between North Dakota State and second-seeded Montana in the championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The Jackrabbits beat NDSU 45-21 in the title game last year and 33-16 in a Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup on Nov. 4.

“It feels amazing. There’s no place I’d rather be right now,” Gronowski said. “We’re going to Frisco and we’re going to have fun. One more time with the seniors and just enjoy the last few moments we have and just have fun out there and go dominate in Frisco.”

Fifth-seeded Albany (11-4), which was 3-8 last season, completed its most successful season in history after being picked to finish 11th in the Coastal Athletic Association. But the team that averaged 30.4 points on offense and allowed 17.2 on offense, was never in this one.

The Great Danes entered allowing an FCS-fewest 78 yards rushing a game but gave up 133 in the first half and 220 for the game. The Jackrabbits had 338 yards in the first half, seven more than Albany allowed per game, and finished with 556.

South Dakota State went 74 yards in 11 plays on the game-opening drive, which ended with Gronowski’s 6-yard pass to Zach Heins. Gronowski was 4-for-4 passing and Davis had five carries for 34 yards.

The next two drives were capped by short Davis runs, the first set up by an interception by Large. Albany’s third drive ended with Large returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.

The final score of the first half was a 36-yard pass to Jadon Janke, who finished the half with six catches for 151 yards, a school playoff record.

“It was awesome. Offensively we couldn’t be stopped all day,” Gronowski said. “The ‘605 Hogs’ were playing awesome, they were giving me so much time. Jadon Janke was making great plays. Isaiah Davis, what a great running back. It was just great all day.”

Davis finished with 15 carries for 107 yards, leaving the game on the first drive of the fourth quarter. Gronowski found Heins for a 25-yard score to end that drive and didn’t return. Gronowski finished 15 of 19 for 265 yards.

Reese Poffenbarger, who led FCS with 36 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions, was 30 of 44 for 232 yards with three interceptions. He was also the leading rusher for Albany with 28 yards.

South Dakota State’s last loss was 7-3 at Iowa to open last season.

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