Bison lose heartbreaker to Jackrabbits 23-21 in Dakota Marker

In front of a season-high 18,603 fans at the Fargodome, the Bison looked to claim back the highly coveted Dakota Marker trophy for the first time since 2019. In the first half, the Bison offense looked unstoppable against the elite defense of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (6-1, 4-0 MVFC). Bison quarterback Cam Miller passed for a perfect 12-12 in the first half on the way to a career-high 227 passing yards. Despite all the first-half success, Bison coaches, players, and fans could only watch as the Jackrabbits rushed to claim their prize for the third straight season.

 Contrary to their slow start last week, the Bison offense rolled right down the field on their opening drive. Led by Cam Miller, who threw for 53 yards on a perfect 4-4 passing on the drive, the Bison would reach the end zone on their opening drive for the first time in five weeks. Capping off the drive was wide receiver DJ Hart, who scored his first career touchdown on a 22-yard catch and run from Miller to give the Bison an early 7-0 lead.

 “His confidence continues to grow,” Bison head coach Matt Entz expressed of Hart. “He has incredible speed and we’ve got to find ways to continue to utilize him and find ways to create one-on-one matchups.”

 The Jackrabbits, as they would do all day, would fight right back. Converting on multiple third downs and overcoming a raucous crowd in the Fargodome, SDSU running back Isaiah Davis broke free and found the end zone for the sixth time this season with a 24-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven a piece.

 “He’s one of the best running backs in the league,” Entz said of Davis. “He’s averaging over 100 yards (per game). I thought we did a decent job going into it.”

 Following the Jackrabbits’ score, the Bison offense, defense, and 12th man took over for the next few drives. The Bison offense wasted absolutely no time finding the end zone once again. Thanks to the great field position set up by Raja Nelson’s substantial kick return, the Bison would take just three plays to find the end zone. Those plays included a 25-yard run by Dom Gonnella, a 29-yard reception by DJ Hart and finally a 6-yard touchdown run from Cam Miller to give North Dakota State a 14-7 with 3:02 to go in the first quarter.

NDSU quarterback Cam Miller rushes against South Dakota State last Saturday. Photo Credit | Hayden Austin, NDSU Spectrum

 In the ensuing Jackrabbit possession, the Bison crowd continued to be a huge factor. Before South Dakota State even snapped the ball, they found themselves with a first and twenty after two consecutive false starts. The Jackrabbits would then go three and out and give the Bison offense a chance to continue their dominance.

 “It was an electric atmosphere today,” Bison linebacker James Kaczor observed of Bison fans. “Five false starts. That has a huge impact on the game. That was probably one of the loudest games I’ve ever played in.”

 North Dakota State would look to add to their lead following the punt. Early in the drive, it looked as if the Bison would be forced to punt as they faced a fourth and one. However, after South Dakota State called a timeout, Matt Entz decided to leave his offense on the field. On the fourth down, Hunter Luepke would power his way through the line to move the chains. Just five plays later, Luepke made his mark in the passing game when he snuck by the Jackrabbit defense and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown reception from Cam Miller. Less than four minutes into the second quarter, the Herd had rolled to a 21-7 lead.

 After forcing yet another punt from South Dakota State, the Bison looked to be in a prime position to score for the fourth straight possession. With the ball on the SDSU 47-yard line, Miller went deep and connected with Braylon Henderson for a 41-yard gain. With this being a #1 vs. #2 rivalry matchup, it’s a given that big plays will lead to big reactions and that is exactly what happened after the big throw and catch. Miller would be flagged for taunting the SDSU bench and the Bison would be pushed back outside the red zone.

 “That was on me,” Miller confessed. “I did something that the refs didn’t think was okay but that’s who I am as a person. I am very competitive and I’m not going to change who I am.”

 The penalty seemed to disrupt the entire flow of the game for the Bison. Two plays after the taunting penalty, backup quarterback Cole Payton came into the game to what many expected to be a quarterback run. Instead, Payton tried to throw over the top of the Jackrabbit defense but was picked off by SDSU’s Colby Huerter to end the threat.

 “Any time you turn it over in the red zone it’s a momentum breaker,” Entz stated. “He had been playing really well before that and it’s unfortunate and we’ve got to respond better.”

 Coming out of halftime, the rejuvenated Jackrabbits’ offense found life that had yet to be seen. Thanks in part to a roughing the passer penalty on the Bison and the play of Jackrabbits’ quarterback Mark Gronowski, South Dakota State would drive into the red zone before settling for a 31-yard field goal by Hunter Dustman.

 It wouldn’t be long before the Jackrabbits’ offense would get back on the field. Riding the backs of Amar Johnson and Isaiah Davis, who ran for a combined 203 yards on the day, the Jackrabbits found the end zone for the first time since the first quarter. The 16-yard touchdown scamper from Johnson trimmed the Bison lead to just four with 3:03 to go in the third quarter.

 “Amar is a good player,” Jackrabbits’ head coach John Stiegelmeier added. “I talked to him after Isaiah went down. I said, ‘we’re going to lean on you’ and I think he thought I didn’t believe in him because he came in the locker room afterward and said, ‘I got you, coach, don’t worry.’ Really proud of him, he’s a good football player.”

 Despite picking up just their second first down of the second half, the next Bison possession would be rebuked for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on preseason All-American tackle Cody Mauch. The penalty for excessive blocking that let out the Bison boo-birds, forced the Bison to punt.

 Under the helm of Gronowski, the Jackrabbit offense would settle for yet another field goal off the foot of Hunter Dustman, this time from 38-yards out. With just 10:25 to go, the lead was cut down to just one point at 21-20.

 The stagnate Bison offense continued to struggle mightily in the second half, as they would punt for the fourth straight possession, allowing South Dakota State a chance to take the lead. The Jackrabbits wasted no time getting going, as a 39-yard reception by Jadon Janke put SDSU in the red zone. The Bison defense would hold strong and force the Jackrabbits to settle for their third field goal of the half. Hunter Dustman, who came into Saturday just 5-11 on field goal attempts, finished 3-3 on Saturday as he banged through an 18-yard field goal to give his team a 23-21 lead with 3:49 to go.

 “He’s been struggling a little bit at the beginning of the year, but he’s been really working on it,” Mark Gronowski shared of Dustman. “It was really awesome to see him building confidence for the rest of the year.”

 The latest score by the Jackrabbits gave the Bison offense an ultimatum. Score now or lose and watch the men in white raise the Dakota Marker for the third straight year. The Bison offense which had accumulated just 33 yards of offense in the second half had work to do. The offense seemed to come alive as they pushed the ball passed midfield, but to the dismay of Bison fans, Cam Miller’s fourth-down pass to DJ Hart fell incomplete and allowed South Dakota State to run out the clock.

 “There’s always a silver lining in these games and in this sport,” James Kaczor commented about moving on from the loss. “You lose and you hate to lose but you’ve got to find a way to learn from it. We’ve got to go and finish and take it one game at a time.

 Following next week’s bye, the Bison (5-2, 3-1 MVFC) take on Illinois State at the Fargodome at 2:30 on October 29th. Student tickets will be available on October 22 at 6:00 p.m. at

Game Stats:

Cam Miller; 17-22 227 Yds, 2 TD; Rush TD; DJ Hart; 4 Rec 59 Yds, 1 TD

Hunter Luepke; 15 Car 58 Yds; Rec TD

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