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Top-seeded South Dakota State displayed a punishing running game and a smothering defense to begin defense of its Football Championship Subdivision title with a 41-0 shutout of Mercer in second-round playoff action Saturday afternoon at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The Jackrabbits improved to 12-0 on the season and extended their overall winning streak to 26 games dating back to early in the 2022 campaign. Mercer ended its season with a 9-4 overall record.

SDSU scored on each of its four first-half possessions, starting with a 26-yard field goal by Hunter Dustman that finished off a 10-play, 56-yard drive.

The Jackrabbits extended their lead to 10-0 with a 13-play, 74-yard march that consumed seven and a half minutes before culminating with the first of three rushing touchdowns on the day by Isaiah Davis. SDSU's longest play of the methodical drive was a 17-yard pass from Mark Gronowski to Amar Johnson before Davis scored on the first play of the second quarter.

SDSU scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter — the first on a 7-yard pass from Gronowski to Jaxon Janke and the second on a 6-yard run by Davis with 21 seconds remaining in the first half — for a 24-0 halftime lead. Gronowski connected with Jadon Janke for 28 yards on the first play of the latter drive before finding Jaxon Janke for a 23-yard catch and run to put SDSU back into the red zone.

After holding Mercer to another three-and-out to start the second half, SDSU made it 5-for-5 in coming away with points on drives to start the game with a six-play, 68-yard scoring jaunt in which Davis picked up all but six yards. The senior running back from Joplin, Missouri, tallied runs of 2 and 13 yards, along with a 5-yard catch, before rumbling 42 yards down the left sideline for his longest touchdown run of the season.

Davis topped the 100-yard mark for the 10th time in a playoff game in his career, ending the day with 117 yards on 16 carries. Amar Johnson contributed 107 yards on 11 carries as the Jackrabbits rushed for 346 yards as a team.

Angel Johnson closed out the scoring with an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which stands as the longest play from scrimmage by SDSU this season.

Gronowski completed 11-of-16 passes for 158 yards, with backup Chase Mason entering the game midway through the third quarter and completing 4-of-6 attempts for 67 yards. Jaxon Janke caught a game-high seven passes for a season-high 106 yards.

Overall, SDSU held a 571-151 advantage in total offense. Mercer was limited to six first downs and went 1-for-10 on third-down attempts., compared to 9-of-14 on third-down plays by SDSU. The Jackrabbits, who held the ball for more than 12 minutes in the opening quarter, racked up 35:26 in possession time.

Mercer's leading rusher was defensive lineman Chris Hill, who successfully executed a fake punt for a 24-yard gain in the second quarter. Quarterback Carter Peevy was 14-of-22 passing for 75 yards and was intercepted twice, while Parker Wroble was the leading pass-catcher for the Bears with five receptions for 26 yards.

Isaiah Stalbird registered a team-high seven tackles for the Jackrabbits, who recorded their first-ever playoff shutout and blanked an opponent for the second time in the last three games. Jason Freeman added six stops.

Lance Wise Jr. was credited with a game-high 10 tackles for Mercer, with Marques Thomas and T.J. Moore each contributing nine stops.

South Dakota State will host eighth-seeded Villanova in quarterfinal action next weekend. The date and time will be announced following the conclusion of all FCS playoff games on Saturday. Villanova advanced with a 45-28 home victory over Youngstown State.

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Gallery Credit: Katrina Sirotta