Sac State football falls to South Dakota State in 24-19 second round loss

Jackrabbits pounded their way into the third round with 205 rushing yards


Isabelle Juarez

Junior quarterback Jake Dunniway (12) and senior wide receiver Isaiah Gable (4) embrace after losing to South Dakota State on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. The Hornets hosted a second-round playoff game against the Jackrabbits.

Brandon Bailey

The stands at Hornet Stadium were packed on the home side for an anticipated playoff matchup between the Sacramento State football team and South Dakota State that ended in  favor of the Jackrabbits who won 24-19. 

It was a disappointing loss for the Hornets and what made it hurt the most was knowing that they could’ve done some things better according to head coach Troy Taylor. 

“It hurts. The closer you get, the more it hurts but obviously we’ve came a long way as a football program,” Taylor said. 

The Hornets were saddened that they had to let their seniors go on losing terms but Taylor was also excited about the upside that the team has with only 15 guys on the team being seniors and the rest gearing up to make another run next season. 

Sac State fought to the end but this game was a testament to how well South Dakota State has been over the last decade. Last year the Jackrabbits were 30 seconds away from winning a National Championship before losing to Sam Houston University and they have made it to the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. 

“Once it [winning] starts, it becomes an expectation and when you expect to have success, there’s some pressure but there’s also some confidence with it,” said South Dakota State Head coach John Stiegelmeier. 

It was not an ideal start for the Hornets, who struggled to click on offense, and the Jackrabbits took advantage by jumping out to an early 24-3 lead at the end of the first half. 

Last week the Jackrabbits gained 433 yards on the ground in their victory over UC Davis, and the game plan did not change against Sac State who has played well against the run all season. 

In the first half, South Dakota State rushed for 162 yards, and the carries were split evenly between their two-headed monster backfield of senior running back Pierre Strong Jr. and sophomore running back Isaiah Davis. 

The Hornets started off with back-to-back three and outs, but on their third offensive drive they resembled the team that fans have seen all year. Junior quarterback Jake Dunniway gave the Hornets the spark they needed on a 19-yard run that put them across midfield, but just when the Hornets got in a rhythm a pass thrown by Dunniway intended for sophomore wideout Parker Clayton was intercepted by senior cornerback Don Gardner. 

It was the first of two interceptions by Dunniway, who had not thrown more than one interception in a game all season. 

South Dakota controlled the pace and time of possession for the entire first half, and it was the first time the Hornet defense faced adversity early in a game since week-three against Cal. 

“We as an offense didn’t execute well in the first half so you can’t blame anybody but yourself for getting in that much of a deficit,” Dunniway said. 

Despite the slow start, it was a tale of two halves for the Hornets who came out swinging to start the third quarter. 

“I thought we turned the ball over at really crucial times but other than that we were kind of starting to settle in and play,” Taylor said. “I just told them the adjustments we got to make on both sides of the ball and to come out fast and get a stop, and we could win this game and would win this game. I really thought we were going to but obviously we came up short.”

The Hornets were stagnant on their first two plays of the opening second half drive, but a pass on third and thirteen intended for junior wide receiver Pierre Williams was ruled a 15-yard pass interference and positioned the Hornets on their own 48.

Sac State rolled off of the momentum and continued to attack the JackRabbits through the air finishing the drive off with a three-yard touchdown pass from Dunniway to Williams for their first score of the game as they closed in on the lead 10-24. 

For the first time all game, Sac State was in sync on both sides of the ball. The Hornets held the Jackrabbits to zero points in the third quarter and only 44 yards on the ground. 

The Hornet defense settled in and came up with the stops necessary to give its offense a chance, but mistakes and penalties were their downfall. 

“We started off a little slow, obviously giving up too many points in the first half. I think execution was the biggest thing, [and] Staying in our gaps and playing together,” said senior linebacker Taylor Powell. 

Early in the fourth quarter, the Hornets drove down to South Dakota State’s 20-yard line after a 32-yard pass to Williams and a targeting penalty on a big hit that sidelined Dunniway for the next two plays. 

The Hornets were rolling and junior quarterback Asher O’Hara rushed the ball for 20 yards into South Dakota State’s 20 yard line, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. The Jackrabbits pounced on the opportunity with a sack that almost put the Hornets out of field goal range, but junior kicker Kyle Sentkowski nailed a 47-yard field goal to cut the lead down 13-24. 

Sac State continued to lean on their passing offense late, and it almost led to a comeback as senior wide receiver Isaiah Gable scored to cut the lead down to five with a one-yard rushing touchdown with two and half minutes remaining in the game. 

The Jackrabbits were stagnant and held to zero points in the second half but moved the ball when it counted most on a fourth-and-inches carry that sealed the game and ended the Hornet season.