Sam Houston State vs. South Dakota State: What you need to know for the FCS title game

·3 min read

South Dakota State (8-1) vs. Sam Houston State (9-0)

Frisco, Texas

Sunday, May 16, 2 p.m. ET, ABC

South Dakota State -5, O/U 47

The spring football season is almost over. The FCS division of college football moved its season to the spring of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The season ends with a new champion Sunday. North Dakota State's three-year run as FCS champs is over after the Bison were knocked out of the playoffs two weeks ago. 

How these teams got here

South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits easily dispatched Delaware 33-3 in the semifinals thanks to a 20-point second quarter. The game was 27-3 at halftime as SDSU cruised in the second half.

SDSU’s only loss of the season came on Feb. 27 when it lost 28-17 to North Dakota. The Jackrabbits beat defending FCS champions North Dakota State 27-17 to end the regular season on April 17 and then beat Holy Cross and Southern Illinois (for a second time) before playing Delaware in the playoffs.

Sam Houston State: The Bearkats beat No. 1 James Madison 38-35 in the semifinals in one of the best games of the spring season. SHSU was down 24-3 in the second quarter before scoring 28 points in the third quarter to take the lead and hold on for the three-point win.

SHSU knocked North Dakota State out of the playoffs on May 2 with a 24-20 win after beating Monmouth to start the postseason. Just one of SHSU’s six regular season games was within eight points and two of its wins were by over 50 points.

Sam Houston State defensive back Isaiah Downes (13) intercepts a pass intended for North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson (1) during the first quarter of a quarterfinal game in the NCAA college FCS football playoffs on Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Huntsville, Texas. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Sam Houston State knocked North Dakota State out of the playoffs. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Players to watch

South Dakota State RB Isaiah Davis: Davis is the team’s second-leading rusher with 640 yards on just 82 carries. Davis is part of a three-pronged SDSU rushing attack with RB Pierre Strong (650 yards) and QB Mark Gronowski (567). Each player averages over 60 yards per game and the three combine for 210 of SDSU’s 230 rushing yards per game.

Sam Houston State WR Jequez Ezzard: The wide receiver has 753 yards and seven touchdowns on just 28 catches. He’s averaging nearly 30 yards per catch so far in 2021 and is extremely dangerous as a punt returner too. He took a kick back against James Madison in SHSU’s explosive third quarter.

South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong during an NCAA football game against Minnesota Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King)
South Dakota State's Pierre Strong is part of a three-pronged rushing attack for the Jackrabbits. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton- King)

Keys to the game

South Dakota State: This is a battle of strength vs. strength on offense and defense. South Dakota State excels at running the football and averages 50 yards more per game on the ground than it does through the air. Sam Houston State, meanwhile, gives up less than 100 yards per game rushing and has allowed four rushing touchdowns all season. SDSU needs to add to that total to have a chance to win. 

Sam Houston State: The Bearkats averaged over 300 yards passing per game in the regular season. QB Eric Schmid hasn't topped 227 yards in any of the team's three playoff games. SDSU gives up less than 170 yards passing per game. If Schmid and Ezzard can connect for a couple of long pass plays then SHSU will have a chance to open up the South Dakota State defense.

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