The nationally ranked South Dakota State University football team continues its quest toward a possible league title and postseason berth as it travels Saturday to Southern Illinois for a Missouri Valley Football Conference matchup.
Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. at Saluki Stadium on the Southern Illinois University campus in Carbondale.
The Jackrabbits, ranked 21st in this week's Sports Network media poll and 25th by the Football Championship Subdivision coaches, enter Saturday's game with a 6-2 overall record and 4-1 league mark. SDSU secured its first winning season since 2009 with a 41-28 victory Oct. 27 over Youngstown State.
SDSU also will be looking to give head coach John Stiegelmeier his 100th career victory. In 16 seasons - all at SDSU - Coach Stig has a 99-74 record.
Southern Illinois, meanwhile, is still in the playoff hunt despite having its three-game winning streak snapped in a 23-17 loss Oct. 27 at North Dakota State. The Salukis, who are receiving votes in the polls, are 5-4 overall, including a 4-2 mark in the MVFC.
THE SERIES: Saturday's game marks the fifth meeting between South Dakota State and Southern Illinois a series that began when the Jackrabbits joined the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008.
SIU won the first two series meetings, while the Jackrabbits have won the last two, including a 31-10 victory in Carbondale during the 2010 season.
Following are the scores of the four previous meetings:
Nov. 15, 2008: Southern Illinois 38, South Dakota State 35 (at Carbondale, Ill.)
Nov. 7, 2009: Southern Illinois 34, South Dakota State 15 (at Brookings, S.D.)
Oct. 16, 2010: South Dakota State 31, Southern Illinois 10 (at Carbondale, Ill.)
Nov. 5, 2011: South Dakota State 45, Southern Illinois 34 (at Brookings, S.D.)
ONLINE COVERAGE: Audio coverage of Saturday's game is scheduled to be available via the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service at GoJacks.com, the official website of SDSU athletics. Monthly subscriptions for the Jackrabbit Extra, which includes live audio of all games and video streaming of select games are available for $11.95 per month or $99.95 for a year of service.
Video streaming will be available through the Salukis All-Access subscription service at SIUSalukis.com.
Local radio coverage Saturday begins at 1 p.m. Central Time on the Jackrabbit Sports Network. Tyler Merriam will call the play-by-play, with former Jackrabbit player Mike Struck providing color commentary and Scotty Kwas providing sideline updates. Yankton-based WNAX 570 AM will again serve as the flagship station of the Jackrabbit Sports Network, which includes the following affiliates:
• KJJQ 910 AM-Brookings
• KBFS 1450 AM-Belle Fourche
• KMSD 1510 AM-Milbank
• KORN 1490 AM-Mitchell
• KOLY 1300 AM-Mobridge
• KGFX 1060 AM-Pierre
• KSDR 1480 AM-Watertown
RABBITS RANKED: South Dakota State returned to the national rankings this week after dropping out following a 27-6 setback at Northern Iowa on Oct. 20. The Jackrabbits check in this week at No. 21 in the Sports Network media poll and cracked the FCS Coaches poll for the first time this season in the 25th spot.
The Jackrabbits had been ranked in the Sports Network poll for four weeks, rising as high as No. 20 for two weeks.
SDSU also is ranked 11th in this week's FCS Gridiron Power Index as a member of the top-ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference.
CAPTAINS: Leading the Jackrabbit football team on the field and in the locker room are five captains:
• Seth Daughters, Sr., tight end, Winner, S.D.;
• Bo Helm, Sr., defensive back, Childress, Texas;
• Ross Shafrath, Sr., linebacker, Hampton, Iowa;
• Austin Sumner, So., quarterback, Brandon, S.D.;
• Winston Wright, Jr., defensive back, Lee's Summit, Mo.
The Jackrabbits broke from tradition this season by naming two non-senior players - Sumner and Wright - as captains. Previously, all team captains were selected from the senior class.
VALLEY PREVIEW: South Dakota State has been picked to finish sixth in the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Preseason Poll, which was announced in early August.
Defending national champion North Dakota State gained the top spot, receiving 37 of 38 first-place votes in the poll conducted by league coaches, sports information directors and select media. Northern Iowa, which tied NDSU for the league regular season title a year ago, finished second in the poll, followed by Youngstown State and Illinois State.
Indiana State rounded out the top half of the poll, with SDSU taking sixth. Southern Illinois, South Dakota, Western Illinois and Missouri State completed the poll.
Individually, three Jackrabbit players were recognized on the 2012 Missouri Valley Football Preseason Team. Offensively, senior wide receiver Aaron Rollin and tackle Bryan Witzmann were honored along with defensive back Winston Wright.
Rollin, an honorable mention all-league performer last season, tied for the team lead with 61 receptions last season. The Lee's Summit, Mo., native also gained 906 yards through the air and reccorded a team-best seven touchdowns in 2011.
Witzmann, a junior from Houlton, Wis., also earned honorable mention all-MVFC honors in 2011. He has started all 22 games at left tackle over the last two seasons.
Wright, a junior from Lee's Summit, Mo., was a second-team all-MVFC selection in 2011 after recording a team-best three interceptions from his cornerback position. Wright also notched 57 tackles and a team-best seven pass breakups.
Also recognized on the preseason team was honorable mention selection Andy Mink on the defensive line. A native of Ashland, Neb., Mink racked up 75 tackles, including team-best totals of 8.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2011.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: South Dakota State has racked up a number of Missouri Valley Football Conference player of the week awards during the 2012 season.
This past week, three Jackrabbits earned MVFC recognition: sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner as offensive player of the week, redshirt freshman linebacker T.J. Lally as newcomer of the week and junior left tackle Bryan Witzmann as offensive lineman of the week.
Lally earned named as both the MVFC Newcomer of the Week recognition for the third time this season, while Witzmann received the MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week award for the second time in 2012.
SCOUTING SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: Southern Illinois has scored touchdowns just about any way imaginiable during the 2012 season.
During a recent three-game winning streak in which they put themselves in the thick of the league race, the Salukis scored six non-offensive touchdowns - three on fumble returns, two on blocked punts and one on an interception return. The opportunistic Salukis have gotten out of the gates quickly in games this season, outscoring the opposition 68-38 in the first quarter.
Quarterback Kory Faulkner has solidified his place as the starting quarterback this season by completing 57.5 percent (158-of-275) of his passes for 1,611 yards and 10 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
Faulkner has spread the ball around to a receiving corps that includes six players with at least 14 catches. Sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt leads the way with team highs of 42 receptions, 508 yards and four touchdowns. LaSteven McKinney ranks second with 34 catches for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
The Salukis have equally split the primary rushing duties between Mika'il McCall and Steve Strother, who are separated both by one carry (111-110) and one yard (422-421), respectively. McCall has scored seven touchdowns, while Strother has yet to find the end zone this season.Strother also serves as the team's primary kick returner.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Salukis have racked up 24 sacks and recorded 22 takeaways. Jayson DiManche leads with six sacks among his nine tackles for loss and 38 total tackles. Eze Obiora has notched five sacks, while Kenneth Boatright has contributed four sacks and a team-best 10 tackles for loss.
Bryan Presumé is the Salukis' top tackler with 64 total stops, while D.J. Cameron has a team-best two interceptions.
On special teams, Austin Pucylowski is averaging 40.9 yards per punt attempt and has landed 16 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Kicker Austin Johnson has made 6-of-10 field goal attempts with a long of 35 yards.
ZENNER ON PAYTON WATCH LIST: South Dakota State University running back Zach Zenner has been officially added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List.
The Walter Payton Award, presented by The Sports Network, and in its 26th year, is presented to the outstanding player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
A sophomore from Eagan, Minn., Zenner continues to lead the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing average with 180.88 yards per game. His 1,447 net yards rank second in the FCS ranks and fifth in total rushing yards among all players in NCAA Football this season, Zenner is only the third back in Missouri Valley Football Conference history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in five games.
The Payton Award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season on Nov. 19. The top three vote-getters will be invited to the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation on Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.
Zenner set career highs with 23 carries and 183 rushing yards in the Jackrabbits' 2012 season-opening loss at Kansas on Sept. 1. He opened the scoring with a 99-yard touchdown run - the longest offensive play from scrimmage in program history, surpassing Mike Lunde's 95-yard run against North Dakota in 1976. Zenner also caught four passes for 27 yards, giving him 210 all-purpose yards in the contest.
He followed that performance by again establishing career highs with 34 carries for 278 yards at Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 8. Zenner scored on a 35-yard touchdown run in the third quarter at Southeastern Louisiana, then added a pair of touchdowns - including the game-winning 23-yard score - en route to 197 yards Sept. 15 versus UC Davis as he crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career.
Zenner tallied runs of 57 and 87 yards Sept. 22 at Indiana State en route to 237 yards on 29 carries, then turned in a 30-carry, 182-yard performance Sept. 29 against Missouri State that included an 88-yard touchdown run.
On Oct. 13 versus Western Illinois, Zenner scored on runs of 46 and 60 yards en route to 171 yards. After topping the 100-yard mark in each of the first seven games, Zenner was held to season lows of 17 carries and 87 yards in the Oct. 27 win over Youngstown State.
Five of Zenner's single-game performances rank in the top 40 among FCS players in 2012, with his 278-yard outing at Southeastern Louisiana ranking third. His 237-yard performance at Indiana State ranks 10th. For the season, Zenner is averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
As a kick returner and running back during his redshirt freshman season, Zenner ranked third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2011 with an average of 123.1 all-purpose yards per game, earning him a spot on the league's all-newcomer team.
LALLY RECEIVES RICE ATTENTION: For the second year in a row, the South Dakota State University football team has a player under consideration for the Jerry Rice Award, which is presented to the top freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Earlier this month, linebacker T.J. Lally was officially named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List following his strong start to the 2012 season.
A redshirt freshman from Chicago, Lally ranks second on the nationally ranked Jackrabbits for tackles with 65 and ranks in a tie for second on the team lead with four sacks and two interceptions. He has been named Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week three times and also was named MVFC Defensive Player of the Week following the Jackrabbits' conference-opening win at Indiana State on Sept. 22. Lally also has forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and broken up two passes in 2012.
Lally is one of four Missouri Valley Football Conference players on the season's initial watch list. Missouri State running back Ryan Heaston, Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen and Western Illinois linebacker J.J. Raffelson also are being considered for the Jerry Rice Award, which is named for the legendary wide receiver, who played in the FCS (then Division I-AA) at Mississippi Valley State.
The award will be voted on by a national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries following the regular season. The list will grow to 20 finalists by then, with the award to be presented Dec. 17 in Philadelphia.
During the 2011 season, Jackrabbit quarterback Austin Sumner placed third in the balloting for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award.
SUMNER AT THE HELM: South Dakota State University quarterback Austin Sumner will attempt to build off an impressive freshman season a year ago.
Although not expected to play in the Sept. 1 season opener at Kansas due to an injury suffered in practice the previous week, Sumner entered the game in the third quarter and led the Jackrabbits on two scoring drives, including throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyrel Kool early in the fourth quarter. Sumner finished the game 14-of-31 passing for 175 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted four times. He followed with a two-touchdown performance at Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 8.
Sumner put together his best performance of the 2012 season last week against Youngstown State, throwing for a career-best five touchdowns and season-best 351 yards. His touchdown passes went to five different receivers and covered 6, 50, 13, 17 and 49 yards.
A native of Brandon, S.D., Sumner started the final eight games of the 2011 season, leading the Jackrabbits to a 4-4 record and setting the Missouri Valley Football Conference freshman record with 2,382 yards passing. Sumner, who finished third in the voting for the inaugural Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision, also tied a Jackrabbit single-game record with 37 completions versus nationally ranked Northern Iowa on Oct. 15, 2011.
Sumner topped the 300-yard mark five times in 2011, including throwing for a career-best 377 yards in a double-overtime win over Missouri State. With 3,796 career yards passing, Sumner stands 152 yards away from moving past Noel Bouché (3,947 yards from 1996-98) for 10th place on the Jackrabbit career charts.
TRIPLE THREAT: South Dakota State's Tyrel Kool has shifted all around the field during his Jackrabbit career and is expected to see action both in the backfield and at wide receiver in 2012.
A senior from Yankton, Kool began his collegiate career as a running back and kick returner, but switched to wide receiver during the 2010 season, when he led the team with 64 receptions for 808 yards. His receptions total is fifth-most in a season by a Jackrabbit player, while his receiving yards mark stood 10th in a single season as he earned honorable mention all-Missouri Valley Football Conference recognition.
In 2011, Kool moved back to running back and led the team with 534 yards rushing. He made the most of his first career start at running back, racking up 107 yards on the ground and another 79 through the air in the Jackrabbits' 2011 season opener against Southern Utah.
Kool started at wide receiver in the Sept 1 season opener at Kansas and recorded a team-high eight receptions for 76 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter. He added catches of 41 and 50 yards en route to a three-reception, 98-yard outing against Youngstown State on Oct. 27. His 50-yard reception went for his second touchdown of the season.
He stands at 114 career receptions entering Saturday's game - two away from moving into top-10 status on the SDSU career charts.
In the Oct. 13 game against Western Illinois, Kool returned the opening kickoff 100 yards untouched for a touchdown. It tied the longest kick return in school history and was the first kick return for touchdown by a Jackrabbit player since October 2007.
Additionally, Kool saw time at defensive back late in the 2009. He recorded 10 total tackles, including three in the Jackrabbits' playoff game at Montana.
ROLLIN RETURNS: Senior wide receiver Aaron Rollin rejoined the SDSU lineup Sept. 22 at Indiana State after being injured in the Sept. 8 game at Southeastern Louisiana.
A native of Lee's Summit, Mo., Rollin is poised to enter the Jackrabbit career top 10 in a pair of receiving categories during the 2012 season. He recorded 96 receptions for 1,311 yards in his first three seasons with the Jackrabbits, and has recorded 19 receptions for 290 yards thus far in 2012. Rollin, who became the first Jackrabbit receiver to top the 100-yard mark in a game this season with three catches for 108 yards Oct. 27 versus Youngstown State, stands one catch away from cracking the SDSU careeer top 10 and 57 receiving yards shy of top-10 status.
Rollin put together a breakthrough 2011 campaign, leading the team with seven touchdowns while sharing the team lead with 61 receptions. He teamed with Dale Moss to give SDSU one of the top receiving tandems in the nation as both receivers topped the 900-yard mark.
Rollin was held without a catch in the 2012 season opener at Kansas, ending his streak of consecutive games with a reception at 21, dating back to the 2009 season.
SHAFRATH STICKING OPPONENTS: Senior linebacker Ross Shafrath led the team in tackles each of the first six games of the season and has a team-best total of 93 after establishing a new career high with 17 tackles to again lead the Jackrabbits in their 41-28 victory over Youngstown State on Oct. 27.
Shafrath opened 2012 with a then-career-high 16 tackles Sept. 1 at Kansas. His total was the most by a Jackrabbit player since linebacker Mike Lien notched 18 tackles in a 2010 game at North Dakota State. He then notched eight stops in the Sept. 8 win over Southeastern Louisiana and shared team-high honors with 10 stops versus UC Davis on Sept. 15. He again led the squad with 11 tackles in the Jackrabbits' league-opening win at Indiana State on Sept. 22, followed by a 12-tackle, two-interception performance Sept. 29 versus Missouri State en route to being named Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Shafrath has tallied double digits in tackles in eight of the last 11 games dating back to last season, including 12 in the Oct. 13 game against Western Illinois.
A senior from Hampton, Iowa, Shafrath ranked fourth on the team in 2011 with 66 tackles despite being a part-time starter. His previous career high was 13 tackles at Missouri State on Oct. 29, 2011.
STOUT DEFENSE: The Jackrabbit defense has been a resurgent unit in 2012,
currently ranking in the top 20 of five different categories among Football Championship Subdivision programs:
• Pass Efficiency Defense, seventh, 98.79;
• Scoring Defense, ninth, 16.88 points per game;
• Rushing Defense, 11th, 110.13 yards per game;
• Total Defense, 11th, 307.63 yards per game;
• Sacks, 15th, 2.75 per game.
During its recent five-game winning streak, the Jackrabbit defense did not allow more than one offensive touchdown in any game. Three of the opposition's six touchdowns in that span came either on an interception or fumble return.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS: The Jackrabbit kickoff return unit has helped the team win the field position battle throughout the 2012 season. Entering play this week, SDSU ranks seventh among FCS programs with an average kickoff return of 25.54 yards.
Six different players have returned kicks this season, including Tyrel Kool, who ran back the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown Oct. 13 against Western Illinois. Trevor Tiefenthaler has added an average of 25.9 yards on 11 returns, including a long of 46 yards.
BIG PLAYS: South Dakota State has patched together a number of big plays during the 2012 season. In all, the Jackrabbits have totaled 14 plays from scrimmage and a pair of kickoffs of more than 40 yards, including four pass plays in the Oct. 27 Hobo Day game versus Youngstown State.
In addition, six of Zach Zenner's have covered at least 42 yards, with his nine touchdowns covering a total of 477 yards, an average of 53 yards.
• Zach Zenner 99-yard run (for TD), at Kansas, 9-1-12
• Zenner 42-yard run, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12
• Zenner 61-yard run (for TD), vs. UC Davis, 9-15-12
• Zenner 57-yard run (for TD), at Indiana State, 9-22-12
• Zenner 87-yard run, at Indiana State, 9-22-12
• Zenner 88-yard run (for TD), vs. Missouri State, 9-29-12
• Zenner 46-yard run (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12
• Zenner 60-yard run (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12
• Brandon Hubert 42-yard reception from Austin Sumner, at Kansas, 9-1-12
• Jason Schneider 46-yard reception (for TD) from Sumner, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12
• Tyrel Kool 41-yard reception from Sumner, vs. Youngstown State, 10-27-12
• Kool 50-yard reception (for TD) from Sumner, vs. Youngstown State, 10-27-12
• Aaron Rollin 46-yard reception from Sumner, vs. Youngstown State, 10-27-12
• Rollin 49-yard reception (for TD) from Sumner, vs. Youngstown State, 10-27-12
Kickoff Returns (2)
• Trevor Tiefenthaler, 46-yard return, at Southeastern Louisiana, 9-8-12
• Tyrel Kool, 100-yard return (for TD), vs. Western Illinois, 10-13-12
Conversely, the Jackrabbit defense has given up only three plays of 40 or more yards this season - two of which came in the Sept. 1 season opener at Kansas. The first was a 43-yard pass from Dayne Crist to Kale Pick on the opening play of the game, followed by a 47-yard run by Tony Pierson.
THE WRIGHT BROTHERS: The Jackrabbit football team received valuable contributions from brothers Winston and Dom Wright during the 2011 season.
Natives of Lee's Summit, Mo., and Blue Springs South High School, both joined the SDSU football program in the fall of 2010. A junior, Winston Wright started all 11 games at cornerback last season en route to earning second-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors. He led the team with three interceptions to go along with 57 tackles. He began his colllegiate career at Missouri, redshirting during the 2009 season.
Dom Wright is a sophomore wide receiver who saw most of his action as a kick and punt returner. In nine games last season, he averaged 15.6 yards on 10 kickoff returns to rank second on the squad. This season, he has returned six punts for 50 yards (8.3 yards per return), including a career-long 39-yard return Sept. 8 at Southeastern Louisiana.
COACH STIG: John Stiegelmeier has built the South Dakota State University football team into a consistent winner in the ranks of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Overall, Coach Stig has led the Jackrabbits to a 99-74 record (.572 winning percentage). SDSU has posted eight winning seasons in the last 10 years, including six of the school's first eight campaigns at the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) level. The Jackrabbits have had a winning record in 12 of Stiegelmeier's 16 years as head coach, and have a 25-12 record (.676 winning percentage) in Missouri Valley Football Conference games.
JACKRABBIT INSIDER: Throughout the 2012 football season, head coach John Stiegelmeier will be a guest on the "Jackrabbit Insider," a weekly behind-the-scenes look at South Dakota State University athletics.
The half-hour television show which features interviews with Jackrabbit coaches and student-athletes, airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on Sioux Falls-based KTTW FOX 7. The show is also broadcast on FOX Sports North at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and on FOX College Sports Central at select times (check listings). Online, the show can be viewed at GoJacks.com.
STIG SHOW: The John Stiegelmeier Radio Show airs each Monday throughout the 2012 football season.
The show is scheduled to air at 5 p.m. on the Jackrabbit Sports Network, originating with flagship station WNAX 570 AM in Yankton. In addition, the weekly show also will be streamed online at GoJacks.com as part of the Jackrabbit Extra subscription service.
Hosted by Tyler Merriam, the John Stiegelmeier Radio Show will also feature interviews with Jackrabbit student-athletes and assistant coaches. Jackrabbit fans are encouraged to attend the show in person at Cubby's Sports Bar and Grill, 307 Main Ave., in downtown Brookings.
A LOOK AHEAD: The Jackrabbits are scheduled to play their final road game of the 2012 regular season, traveling Nov. 10 to nationally ranked North Dakota State.
Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D.