Jacks Host Eastern Illinois in Playoff Opener
BROOKINGS, SD — For the first time in program history, the South Dakota State University football team will host a postseason game.
The Jackrabbits, runner-up of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, will host Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Illinois in first-round action of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 24. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. The game will be available for viewing on ESPN3.com.
SDSU enters the matchup with an 8-3 overall record. Eastern Illinois is 7-4 overall. The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to top-seeded North Dakota State on Dec. 1.
The Jackrabbits are making their second FCS playoff appearance in the last four years. Eastern Illinois, meanwhile, has qualified for its 14th postseason appearance since 1981.
Tickets are now on sale to the general public. Per NCAA policy, all fans attending a postseason game must purchase a ticket. Student and youth tickets are $10, with adult tickets $25. Orders are accepted in person at the Jackrabbit Ticket Office weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – please note state offices will be closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday. Ticket orders also can be made by calling 1-866-GO JACKS during business hours, or online at JackrabbitTickets.com. The Coughlin-Alumni Stadium ticket booth will open at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
THE SERIES: Saturday’s game will mark the first-ever meeting between South Dakota State and Eastern Illinois in football. The Jackrabbits have never faced an Ohio Valley Conference opponent since moving to the Football Championship Subdivision from the NCAA Division II ranks at the start of the 2004 season.
SCOUTING EASTERN ILLINOIS: Eastern Illinois has returned to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference under the guidance of first-year head coach Dino Babers.
Previously an assistant coach at Baylor, Babers has implemented a fast-tempo offense anchored by a pair of Walter Payton Award candidates. Junior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has attempted 499 passes this season, completing 306 (61.3 percent) for 3,602 yards. He has thrown 31 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions. Garoppolo’s primary receiver has been fellow junior Erik Lora, who leads the nation with 124 receptions for 1,531 yards. He has caught 12 touchdowns and also serves as the team’s punt returner.
Three other receivers have caught more than 30 passes. Chris Wright has tallied 49 receptions for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Chavar Watkins has 45 receptions for 504 yrds and four touchdowns. Sam Hendricks rounds out the receiving corps regulars with 34 catches for 294 yards and a pair of scores. On the ground, Jake Walker has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, entering play Saturday with 1,008 yards and 11 touchdowns.
As a team, the Panthers rank sixth in passing offense (345.3 yards per game), sixth in total offense (480.5 ypg) and seventh in scoring offense (38.9 points per game).
On the flip side, the Panthers rank 50th or lower among FCS programs in nearly every defensive category except for tackles for loss, where they rank 10th with an average of 7.55 per game. Senior defensive end Artavious Dowdell leads the way with 13.5 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Greg Mahan has contributed 10 tackles for loss and five sacks during his senior season.
Middle linebacker Robert Haynes is the team’s top overall tackler with 95 tackles. He also shares the team lead for interceptions with two.
Kicker Cameron Berra has made 11-of-12 field goal attempts this season with a long of 44. Berra is 5-for-5 from 40-plus yards this season.
Eastern Illinois is 1-1 against Missouri Valley Football Conference teams this season. The Panthers scored a 49-28 home victory over Southern Illinois in the season opener Aug. 30, then dropped a 54-51, double-overtime game at Illinois State on Sept. 15.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: South Dakota State is making only its third-ever appearance in the NCAA football playoffs, and the Jackrabbits are in search of their first postseason win.
SDSU reached the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time in 2009 after finishing the regular season with an 8-3 overall record and 7-1 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. An at-large selection, the Jackrabbits fell at top-seeded Montana, 61-48.
South Dakota State’s only other postseason game came in the opening round of the 1979 NCAA Division II Playoffs, when the Jackrabbits came out of the short end of a 50-7 decision at Youngstown State (Ohio).
Current Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier was a student assistant coach on the 1979 squad that finished the regular season with a 9-2 record.
RABBITS RANKED: South Dakota State has had a presence in the national rankings since the start of conference play. The Jackrabbits check in this week at No. 19 in the Sports Network media poll and 21st in the final FCS Coaches’ regular season rankings.
The Jackrabbits have been ranked for eight weeks this season in the Sports Network poll. SDSU was in the rankings for four weeks in late September through mid-October. The Jackrabbits regained their spot in the Sports Network Top 25 following their victory over Youngstown State on Oct. 27, a win which also propelled them in the coaches’ poll for the first time this season. The Jackrabbits’ highest rankings this season came on Nov. 5, when they were 16th in the Sports Network poll and 20th in the coaches’ rankings.
SDSU also holds its highest ranking in the Gridiron Power Index by tying for seventh place with fellow playoff qualifier Georgia Southern this week. The Missouri Valley Football Conference remains the highest-ranked league in the GPI, while the Ohio Valley stands fourth. Eastern Illinois is 22nd in this week’s GPI team rankings.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Jackrabbit football team will attempt to remain unbeaten at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium this season when it hosts Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
SDSU is 5-0 this season at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and has won its last six home games dating back to the 2011 campaign. The Jackrabbits last posted an undefeated home season in 2004, when they went 4-0.
In 51 seasons at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, the Jackrabbits have compiled a 169-102 home record (.624 winning percentage). In the Division I era, which began in 2004, SDSU is 36-11 (.766 winning percentage) at CAS.
As the Jackrabbits have made their playoff march, they are on pace to set a new single-season average attendance record. Through five home games this season, SDSU has drawn an average of 13,338 fans per game – slightly ahead of the record of 13,265 set during the playoff season of 2009.
All five home games this season have drawn more than 10,000 fans, with the Nov. 17 game against South Dakota (15,278) and Oct. 27 Hobo Day game versus Youngstown State (14,966) ranking seventh and 10th, respectively, for single-game crowds in stadium history.
SYROVATKA STEADY: Sophomore placekicker Justin Syrovatka has been a consistent performer on special teams for the Jackrabbits during the 2012 season.
A Sioux Falls native, Syrovatka has made his last eight field goal attempts en route to a team-best 67 points. Four of Syrovatka’s field goals during his streak have been from at least 40 yards, including a career-best 48-yarder just before halftime in the Nov. 17 game against South Dakota.
For the season, Syrovatka is 4-for-5 from 40-plus yards and has made 25-of-26 extra-point attempts.
A LOOK AHEAD: Should the Jackrabbits win Saturday, they will travel to North Dakota State for a rematch against the top-ranked Bison on Dec. 1. Game time is set for 3 p.m. at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.
Courtesy: South Dakota State University