(13) South Dakota State (8-4) at (8) Northern Arizona (9-2)
The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 30, 8 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: J.Lawrence Walkup Skydome (10,000) -- Flagstaff, Arizona. Surface: Grass. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Peter Young and Kevin O'Connell. Home Record: South Dakota State 4-2; Northern Arizona 5-0. Away Record: South Dakota State 4-2; Northern Arizona 4-2. Series Record: Northern Arizona (1-0). Last Meeting: 1985 (Northern Arizona, 24-20 at Northern Arizona). Conference: South Dakota State - Missouri Valley; Northern Arizona - Big Sky. Nicknames: South Dakota State Jackrabbits; Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. Sports Network FCS Ranking: South Dakota State (13); Northern Arizona (8). NCAA Playoff Seedings: South Dakota State (NS); Northern Arizona (NS). Head Coaches: South Dakota State - John Stiegelmeier (16 seasons, 102-76 at South Dakota State and overall); Northern Arizona - Jerome Souers (16 seasons, 93-87 at Northern Arizona and overall). Playoff Records: South Dakota State (1-2); Northern Arizona (0-3). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: South Dakota State 2 (2009, 2012); Northern Arizona 3 (1996, 2001, 2003). Current Playoff Streak: South Dakota State has lost two of its three playoff games; Northern Arizona has lost all three of its playoff games.
GAME NOTES: South Dakota State's season was a lot like riding in an elevator. For three weeks, the Jackrabbits enjoyed the ride upward with three straight wins over Butler (a playoff team), North Dakota and Southeastern Louisiana (a playoff team).
Then South Dakota State's elevator ride took a Tower of Terror-like plummet after a loss to FBS Nebraska. Four losses in five weeks left the Jackrabbits with a 4-4 overall record and a 1-3 mark in Missouri Valley Conference play. But the latter portion of the season was kinder to the 'Rabbits, as they closed out the regular season with four straight wins.
The offensive-minded Jackrabbits will meet up in Flagstaff this weekend against Big Sky opponent Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks finished the regular season with six straight wins - their last loss coming against Montana State back on Oct. 5.
Northern Arizona survived a furious Southern Utah season finale in which Lumberjacks safety Blair Wishom intercepted Thunderbirds quarterback Aaron Cantu and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown a 10-point cushion that sealed the win. It was Northern Arizona's eighth defensive touchdown this season.
South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner finished his stellar regular season against Youngstown State with 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He is second in rushing yards in the country and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns. His success against a very tough defense will be key for the Jackrabbits Saturday night.
Northern Arizona quarterback Kyren Poe hasn't been spectacular, but rather he gets the job done in clutch situations. He ended the game against Southern Utah with 99 passing yards and a touchdown. Against a South Dakota State defense that sports a plus-1.2 turnover margin per game, Poe will be forced to make safe decisions and stick to the game plan, which will likely involve senior running back Zach Bauman heavily.
The Jackrabbits have only lost twice on the road this season, and once was at Nebraska. Putting up a significant number of points isn't Northern Arizona's forte, so the Jackrabbits should take as many shots at the end zone as possible. Zenner's workload should increase against a talented defensive backfield, and we'll see if the Lumberjacks can handle it.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Dakota State 28, Northern Arizona 24.
11/26 15:34:58 ET