For the first time in the history of the Fargodome’s existence, the top two teams in the nation will square off against one another. The North Dakota State Bison and South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who are the number one and two ranked FCS teams respectively, are each undefeated in conference play and 5-1 overall coming into Saturday’s game. Like the Bison’s 31-28 loss against Arizona, the Jackrabbits’ lone loss also came to an FBS team when they were defeated by Iowa 7-3 in the season opener.
Since NDSU’s first championship season in 2011, the only team to knock off the Bison more than once is the Jackrabbits who have done so four times. The Jackrabbits have won the last two meetings against the Bison with a 27-19 win in Brookings, S.D. last season and a 27-17 win in Fargo in the 2021 spring season. The 75-pound Dakota Marker trophy is a huge incentive for all members of Bison football and for Michael Tutsie, who is playing in his 60th career game Saturday, may have even been a deciding factor in returning to NDSU for his sixth season.
“This is one of the biggest reasons personally, why I came back for my sixth year, is to be able to get the rock back,” Tutsie stated. “They’ve beaten us three times since I’ve been here and two times since I’ve actually played in the game. It means a lot.
One area the Bison have struggled in is containing their opponents’ running game. Through the first six Bison games this season, their opponents are averaging nearly 150 rushing yards per game and have rushed for 100+ yards in each game. South Dakota State, averaging 165 rushing yards per game led by running back Isaiah Davis, presents a difficult task for the Bison defense.
“Big physical back wants to get downhill on you,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said of Davis. “If he squares up on you in a hole, there’s going to be a collision. We need to do a good job of getting more hats to the football. Getting off blocks will be critical. We can’t stay blocked. We have to get people to the ball.”
On the opposite side of the ball, the unstoppable force of the Bison run game will meet the brick wall of the Jackrabbit defense. The Bison offense which has run for an average of 265.8 rushing yards per game this season will be tasked with facing a Jackrabbit defense that has the third-ranked rushing defense in the FCS in terms of yards per carry at 2.1.
“Take it one play at a time,” Bison running back TaMerik Williams said of the Jackrabbits’ defense. “We know it’s going to be a grinder game but that’s what we live for. NDSU’s all about that. If it comes to playing anybody that’s rough, we’re all about that. I feel like we’ll be ready for that for sure.”
While the Bison can, of course, run the football; they have also opened the passing game when they’ve needed to. On Saturday, Cam Miller eclipsed 200 passing yards for the first time this season and, as he has been all season, was very efficient in doing so.
“They’re very efficient in throwing the ball,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier stated. “They don’t throw for a lot of yards but that’s why they run for so many yards. This is a good football team. They’re ranked number one for a reason, and they’ll be ranked number one until someone tells them they’re not.”
As previously stated, the Bison have lost two consecutive games to the Jackrabbits and four of the last eight matchups. With the last Bison win over the Jackrabbits being the College Gameday matchup in 2019 and last home win coming in the 2018 semifinals, this year’s edition of the Dakota Marker provides a lot of extra motivation to the Bison players.
“Definitely a lot of extra motivation,” Williams stated. “Especially in the locker room, you can tell there are different levels of focus between everybody from offense to defense to special teams. I feel like it’s a different feeling. We all want to come out on top.”
“It means a lot,” Tutsie stated. “They’re definitely a respectable opponent, but a huge rival and we all know what this game means. It’s going to be exciting. Glad that we get them in the dome. It’ll be a packed house. I’m excited and hopefully, we get the result that we want.
As Tutsie stated, the Fargodome will be packed this weekend for one of the most highly anticipated regular-season games in Fargodome history. With tickets already sold out, this Saturday’s game will be filled with a loud and intense crowd from Bison Nation.
“It’s two teams that have a great rivalry between them and both teams are going to play unbelievably hard on Saturday,” Entz stated. “I anticipate it’s going to be an awesome atmosphere in the Fargodome.”
The Dakota Marker game will kick off from the Fargodome at 2:30 p.m. and will also be televised on the statewide ABC network of WDAY. If you did not get a ticket or cannot watch it on television, you can listen to Rob Hipp on the play-by-play and Bison legend Phil Hansen on the commentary at Bison1660-AM or 92.7 on the FM dial.