Below is a full preview on Sunday’s game and a look at both teams’ paths to the national championship contest.
How to watch the 2020-21 FCS championship
Sunday’s FCS championship game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on ABC. You can also stream the game and trophy presentation on ESPN3.
Follow live stats here as well as get live updates here throughout championship action. Click or tap here for the updated interactive bracket.
What to know about South Dakota State
South Dakota State earned its first No. 1 seed in program history this year after bookending its strong regular season with a Dakota Marker victory over three-time defending champion North Dakota State. After squeaking past Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals, SDSU blew by Delaware, 33-3, in the semifinals to book its first-ever trip to the national championship game.
Here’s what to know about top overall seed South Dakota State.
- 2020-21 record: 8-1 (5-1 MVFC)
- Notable regular-season wins: at Southern Illinois, 44-3 (March 20); at North Dakota State, 27-17 (April 17)
- Road through the playoffs: 31-3 first round win vs. Holy Cross; 31-26 quarterfinals win vs. Southern Illinois; 33-3 semifinals win vs. Delaware
Players to watch
Mark Gronowski: The South Dakota State QB was named MVFC Offensive Player of the Year and finished second in Jerry Rice Award voting, given to the top FCS freshman in the nation. In three playoff games, Gronowski is 31-of-52 with seven passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
Pierre Strong Jr.: SDSU’s leading rusher was actually on the passing end of Gronowski’s trick play receiving touchdown in the semifinals against Delaware. Strong averages 92 all-purpose yards through the first three postseason games.
Logan Backhaus: The MVFC first-team linebacker leads the Jackrabbits in tackles this year, including 30 in three playoff games. Backhaus has three double-digit tackle games this season.
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What to know about Sam Houston
No. 2 seed Sam Houston is back in the national championship game for the first time since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2011-12. But the Bearkats are no strangers to deep playoff runs, reaching the semifinals four times since their last title-game loss (including this year).
Get to know Sam Houston below.
- 2020-21 record: 9-0 (6-0 Southland)
- Notable regular-season wins: vs. Southeastern Louisiana, 43-38 (Feb. 27); at Incarnate Word, 42-14 (April 17)
- Road through the playoffs: 21-15 first round win vs. Monmouth; 24-20 quarterfinals win vs. North Dakota State; 38-35 semifinals win vs. No. 3 James Madison
Players to watch
Eric Schmid: Sam Houston’s redshirt junior QB and the Southland Conference Player of the Year, Schmid has thrown for three touchdowns and rushed for three touchdowns in SHSU’s playoff run so far. Schmid starred in the quarterfinals against North Dakota State, completing 25-of-37 passes and scoring the go-ahead rushing touchdown, before throwing his first two interceptions of the playoffs against James Madison.
Jequez Ezzard: Ezzard was the lightning rod in the Bearkats’ three-touchdown comeback against JMU, breaking away for a 69-yard catch-and-run score and a 80-yard punt return touchdown. The first-team all-conference receiver and returner finished with four catches and 107 receiving yards in the semifinal win.
Jahari Kay: The senior defensive lineman and Buck Buchanan Award finalist leads the Bearkats with six sacks. Kay has 13 tackles and five tackles for loss in SHSU’s three playoff games.
Key storylines for Sunday’s matchup
Sam Houston proved just how lethal its offense could be in the semifinals, recovering from a 24-3 halftime hole to put up four second half touchdowns — in a span of 5:06 game time — to clinch a 38-35 comeback win over James Madison. But don’t underestimate the Bearkats’ defense, which stepped up big time amidst its offense’s second-half flurry, ending the day with five sacks, including a critical one in the final minutes to set up a difficult game-tying field goal attempt by James Madison, which sailed wide left.
It was South Dakota State’s suffocating defense that stood out in its 33-3 rout over Delaware in the first semifinals game. The Jackrabbits allowed just a first-quarter field goal before finishing with seven sacks and allowing only 1.5 yards per rush attempt.
Sam Houston will be the first seeded opponent South Dakota State faces these playoffs. The Bearkats’ home-run threat on offense has some potential for fireworks Sunday. But SDSU’s strong offensive line and multi-faceted rushing attack could slow the game down just enough and help neutralize SHSU’s dynamic pass rush.
South Dakota State vs. Sam Houston: All-time history
South Dakota State became a Division I-AA member in 2004 and has since made 10 FCS playoff appearances. Sam Houston reclassified back in 1984 and have been to 12 postseasons. But Sunday’s national championship game will mark the two teams’ first head-to-head meeting in their FCS histories — regular season and playoff included.
All-time FCS national championship history
Before losing in this year’s quarterfinals to Sam Houston, North Dakota State had won the past three national championships, and eight of the last nine titles — an FCS record. Georgia Southern (now an FBS member) is next with six FCS titles. See the full year-by-year championship history below.
|2019||North Dakota State||Matt Entz||28-20||James Madison||Frisco, Texas|
|2018||North Dakota State||Chris Klieman||38-24||Eastern Washington||Frisco, Texas|
|2017||North Dakota State||Chris Klieman||17-13||James Madison||Frisco, Texas|
|2016||James Madison||Mike Houston||28-14||Youngstown State||Frisco, Texas|
|2015||North Dakota State||Chris Klieman||37-10||Jacksonville State||Frisco, Texas|
|2014||North Dakota State||Chris Klieman||29-27||Illinois State||Frisco, Texas|
|2013||North Dakota State||Craig Bohl||35-7||Towson||Frisco, Texas|
|2012||North Dakota State||Craig Bohl||39-13||Sam Houston State||Frisco, Texas|
|2011||North Dakota State||Craig Bohl||17-6||Sam Houston State||Frisco, Texas|
|2010||Eastern Washington||Beau Baldwin||20-19||Delaware||Frisco, Texas|
|2009||Villanova||Andy Talley||23-21||Montana||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2008||Richmond||Mike London||24-7||Montana||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2007||Appalachian State||Jerry Moore||49-21||Delaware||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2006||Appalachian State||Jerry Moore||28-17||Massachusetts||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2005||Appalachian State||Jerry Moore||21-16||UNI||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2004||James Madison||Mickey Matthews||31-21||Montana||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2003||Delaware||K.C. Keeler||40-0||Colgate||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2002||Western Kentucky||Jack Harbaugh||34-14||McNeese State||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2001||Montana||Joe Glenn||13-6||Furman||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|2000||Georgia Southern||Paul Johnson||27-25||Montana||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|1999||Georgia Southern||Paul Johnson||59-24||Youngstown State||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|1998||Massachusetts||Mark Whipple||55-43||Georgia Southern||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|1997||Youngstown State||Jim Tressel||10-9||McNeese State||Chattanooga, Tenn.|
|1996||Marshall||Bob Pruett||49-29||Montana||Huntington, W.Va.|
|1995||Montana||Don Read||22-20||Marshall||Huntington, W.Va.|
|1994||Youngstown State||Jim Tressel||28-14||Boise State||Huntington, W.Va.|
|1993||Youngstown State||Jim Tressel||17-5||Marshall||Huntington, W.Va.|
|1992||Marshall||Jim Donnan||31-28||Youngstown State||Huntington, W.Va.|
|1991||Youngstown State||Jim Tressel||25-17||Marshall||Statesboro, Ga.|
|1990||Georgia Southern||Tim Stowers||36-13||Nevada||Statesboro, Ga.|
|1989||Georgia Southern||Erk Russell||37-34||Stephen F. Austin *||Statesboro, Ga.|
|1988||Furman||Jimmy Satterfield||17-12||Georgia Southern||Pocatello, Idaho|
|1987||Louisiana-Monroe||Pat Collins||43-42||Marshall||Pocatello, Idaho|
|1986||Georgia Southern||Erk Russell||48-21||Arkansas State||Tacoma, Wash.|
|1985||Georgia Southern||Erk Russell||44-42||Furman||Tacoma, Wash.|
|1984||Montana State||Dave Arnold||19-6||Louisiana Tech||Charleston, S.C.|
|1983||Southern Illinois||Rey Dempsey||43-7||Western Carolina||Charleston, S.C.|
|1982||Eastern Kentucky||Roy Kidd||17-14||Delaware||Wichita Falls, Texas|
|1981||Idaho State||Dave Kragthorpe||34-23||Eastern Kentucky||Wichita Falls, Texas|
|1980||Boise State||Jim Criner||31-29||Eastern Kentucky||Sacramento, Calif.|
|1979||Eastern Kentucky||Roy Kidd||30-7||Lehigh||Orlando, Fla.|
|1978||Florida A&M||Ruby Hubbard||35-28||Massachusetts||Wichita Falls, Texas|
* — Stephen F. Austin’s participation in 1989 championship vacated.