BROOKINGS, S.D. — No one could call SIU's football team conservative at second-ranked South Dakota State Sunday night.
The Salukis put in 327-pound offensive guard ZeVeyon Furcron for a 1-yard touchdown run and ran a double reverse to get Avante Cox into the end zone for another score in the first half Sunday night. Nico Gualdoni's two extra points and two field goals gave SIU a 20-10 halftime lead, but the Jackrabbits scored 24 unanswered and rallied to win 31-26 at Dykhouse Stadium.
SIU closed its first playoff run since 2009 6-4. SDSU (7-1), the top overall seed in the playoffs, advanced to meet Delaware in the FCS semifinals after taking its sixth straight game against the Salukis.
The Jackrabbits sweated this one out until strong safety Michael Griffin II picked off Stone Labanowitz with 12 second to go at the 13-yard line. Looking for Landon Lenoir near the 15-yard line, Labanowitz sailed the pass just a bit, and Griffin went over the top for the interception. Labanowitz was picked off twice, and the Salukis lost a fumble that led to seven points.
"Throwing the ball to Branson (Combs) on the little out route got us the first down, and the clock stopped, and, looking up, and it says 40 seconds, and I thought 'We can really do this,'" Labanowitz said. "But you know a team's gonna give you some Tampa 2 or some Prevent Quarters, or something, so you know they're gonna be off, and your throw has gotta be on the line, and my last throw to Lando wasn't. If you're gonna go out like that, you're gonna go out to the No. 1 team in the country."
SDSU went ahead for good off Mark Gronowski's 67-yard touchdown run with 11:41 to play, the longest play from scrimmage for either team. Isaiah Davis' 4-yard touchdown run with 7:11 to go made it 31-20, but SIU closed the gap. Labanowitz found Lenoir from 31 yards out in the end zone for a touchdown with 5:37 left. His throw for the two-point conversion was there, but Lenoir was not able to come up with it in the front of the end zone.
"On that two-point conversion, great route, just, gotta come down with it," Lenoir said. "It happens sometimes. I can't dwell on it, because I'm not someone who does that kind of thing, but when we go watch the film, I'm definitely going to want those plays back."
SDSU's best drive of the first half might have been its first. The Jackrabbits went 60 yards in five plays, capped by Gronowski's 23-yard touchdown strike to Jadon Janke, Jaxon's brother. Cole Frahm's kick was good on the opening drive, but SIU answered.
The Salukis marched 75 yards in 11 plays, capped by Furcron's first carry this season from the 1-yard line. SIU converted two third downs and nearly scored on the play before Furcron's moment. Javon Williams Jr., back from the concussion protocol, took the snap, moved up about two steps, and pulled back before firing down the left sideline for Lenoir. Lenoir went up and grabbed it near the 3 and landed in the end zone in what was originally called a 34-yard touchdown pass. After review, officials gave SIU the ball at the 1. And that's where they gave it to Furcron, who bulled in over the left side for the score.
The Salukis took the lead on their third possession of the game after a short kickoff return from Williams set them up at midfield. Labanowitz reached the Jacks' 36 after a 10-yard scramble. A personal foul facemask penalty on SDSU put the ball at the 11, where Cox took the ball off Romeir Elliott's toss around the left side for the touchdown. Gualdoni added the extra point with 12:17 left in the half.
The game turned for SDSU early in the fourth quarter. Labanowitz hit Williams in the left flat on a third-and-13 from the 17 that went for what appeared to be a touchdown, as the former Centralia High School quarterback hit the pylon on his run after the catch. Officials ruled him out at the 1, and the Salukis didn't score. Williams was caught for a 1-yard loss when SIU tried to snap it quickly and catch the Jackrabbits off-guard, and Labanowitz threw incomplete on second-and-goal. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore nearly scored when the Salukis put out five wide receivers and he took the snap and ran for it, but he was stopped at the 1.
SIU tried to run Furcron over the top of the line, but SDSU's Payton Shafer and Preston Tetzlaff stopped him to get the ball back. Gronowski's 67-yard run through the left side turned the tide. The Jackrabbits outscored the Salukis 14-6 in the final quarter.
"There's no moral victories, and there's not a dry eye in that locker room," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "There wasn't anybody that didn't come up here to win, and that was our message all week. Those guys believed that they were going to come up here and win."
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