Cade Johnson tied a South Dakota State single-game record with four touchdown receptions as the Jackrabbits officially kicked off the 2018 season by defeating Montana State, 45-14, Saturday night in the Fifth Annual Dairy Drive at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
The third-ranked Jackrabbits, who had their scheduled season opener last week at Iowa State canceled due to inclement weather, dominated both sides of the ball in the first half in racing out to a 24-0 lead through the first 30 minutes.
A sophomore from Papillion, Nebraska, Johnson scored each of the first three Jackrabbit touchdowns, starting with a 2-yard pass from Taryn Christion on third and goal late in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Johnson found paydirt after catching a shovel pass and rolling around left end for a 24-yard score, then tallied his third touchdown three minutes later with a one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone from 19 yards out.
Chase Vinatieri added a 42-yard field goal later in the quarter to give SDSU its 24-0 halftime advantage.
Meanwhile, the Jackrabbit defense pitched a first-half shutout by limiting Montana State to one first down. The Bobcats were forced to punt seven times in the first two quarters and turned the ball over on their other possession - an interception by preseason All-America cornerback Jordan Brown.
The Jackrabbits made it 31-0 on the opening drive of the second half as Christion capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
The two squads traded touchdowns the rest of the way. Maleek Barkley put Montana State on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Lance McCutcheon scored on a 3-yard pass from Tucker Rovig on the first play of the fourth and final stanza.
Mikey Daniel added a third-quarter touchdown for SDSU with a 2-yard plunge that was set up by a 51-yard pass play from Christion to Adam Anderson. On the longest pass play of the night, Christion topped the 10,000-yard mark for total offense in his career, becoming the first Jackrabbit and only second player in Missouri Valley Football Conference to reach the milestone.
Johnson made history at the 10:38 mark of the fourth quarter as he caught his fourth touchdown of the game, this one from 7 yards following a Joshua Manchigiah interception. The mark of four touchdown receptions was first set by Don Bartlett in a 1949 game against North Dakota State. That record went unchallenged for 67 years and now has been matched each of the last three seasons by Dallas Goedert (2016 versus Western Illinois), Jake Wieneke (2017 versus Duquense) and Johnson.
Johnson ended the game with career highs of nine catches for 138 yards, with Anderson adding a career-best 86 yards on four receptions.
Christion finished 21-of-29 passing for 319 yards as SDSU held a 512-193 advantage in total offense, including a 193-29 edge in the rushing department. The Jackrabbits were paced by freshman C.J. Wilson's 62 yards on 12 carries.
Dalton Cox led the SDSU defense with seven tackles.
Montana State, 1-1 overall, went with backup Tucker Rovig at quarterback, and he finished the game 13-of-25 passing for 164 yards. Kevin Kassis caught three passes for 74 yards. None of the six Bobcats with a rushing attempt managed to reach double figures for yards on the ground.
SDSU is slated to wrap up the nonconference portion of its schedule by hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff Sept. 15 in the 52nd Annual Beef Bowl. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, with a pre-game barbecue set for north of the stadium.
• Montana State leads the all-time series, 10-5, although the Jackrabbits have won each of the last three meetings
• Saturday's game marked the first meeting between the two squads in Brookings since 1964
• SDSU improved to 18-4 in home openers under head coach John Stiegelmeier and 14-8 in season openers in Coach Stig's 22 seasons
• The Jackrabbits stayed unbeaten in Dairy Drive games at 5-0 and have scored at least 44 points in all five contests
• Christion upped his career passing touchdowns total to 76 and has thrown four or more touchdowns in a game seven times
• Christion threw and ran for a touchdown in the same game for the 16th time in his career
• SDSU has forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games, dating back to the final game of the 2016 season
• Xavier Ward blocked the extra-point attempt after Montana State's second touchdown
• SDSU held a 37:42 to 22:18 advantage in time of possession
• The Jackrabbits improved to 14-2 in games played at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, which opened in 2016
• Attendance was 14,614