Live coverage as the Montana State Bobcats play the North Dakota State Bison for the FCS championship Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
PREGAME: Eighth-seeded and No. 7-ranked Montana State (12-2) is making its first national championship appearance since 1984, which is also the last time MSU won a national title. The 2021 Bobcats will try to join the '84, '76 and '56 teams on the program's list of national champions.
To do it, MSU will have to beat second-seeded and No. 3-ranked North Dakota State (13-1) in the Football Championship Subdivision title game at 10 a.m. Mountain time Saturday. The Bison have won eight of the last 10 FCS titles, most recently in 2019. They have won three straight games over the Cats, all in the FCS playoffs: 42-17 in the 2010 second round, 52-10 in the 2018 second round and 42-14 in the 2019 semifinals.
MSU last beat NDSU 20-17 in 2005 and owns a 21-15 all-time record over the Bison.
MSU is "as healthy as we’ve been since the start of the season,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said Friday. The Cats will be without backup defensive back Rylan Ortt and reserve running back/fullback Jaharie Martin, MSU announced. Ortt filled in well for All-Big Sky nickelback Ty Okada the last two games, while Martin has been a strong blocker and special teams player.
Okada will be available Saturday, Vigen said, as will All-American running back Isaiah Ifanse, All-American nose tackle Chase Benson, backup linebacker Nolan Askelson and backup running back and first-string kick returner Lane Sumner. Backup defensive back Tyrel Thomas is also suited up and he lined up during MSU's run-throughs.
Returning for NDSU will NDSU will be All-American wide receiver/kick returner Christian Watson, starting center Jalen Sundell, starting left guard Nash Jensen and backup running back Dominic Gonnella.
The Bison are 7 1/2-point favorites.
FIRST QUARTER: The opening kickoff went out of bounds, giving MSU the ball at NDSU's 35-yard line. MSU's first play was an 18-yard pass from Tommy Mellott to Lance McCutcheon on a fake run up the middle by Mellott. Mellott converted a third down and 1 three plays later on a run up the middle.
Four plays after that, on fourth and 2, Blake Glessner lined up for a 45-yard field goal. Rather than kick, holder Bryce Leighton tossed the ball to Glessner, who rolled out right looking to pass. But Glessner was pressured and had no open receivers, so he punted, and the ball bounced into the end zone with 11:49 left in the quarter.
NDSU took a 7-0 lead with 6 minutes, 48 minutes left in the quarter on an eight-yard run from Hunter Luepke. That capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive.
Mellott got hurt at the end of the first drive and missed MSU's next drive. Tucker Rovig replaced Mellott, who was limping and appeared to be favoring his right ankle, which trainers taped up. The freshman from Butte went in and out of the injury tent and jogged to test his mobility.
Rovig converted a pair of first downs, one on a 15-yard pass to Nate Stewart and a 19-yard run. But MSU's drive stalled out in NDSU territory, and Glessner missed a 43-yard field goal wide right.
SCORE: North Dakota State 7, Montana State 0
SECOND QUARTER: Luepke scored his second TD on the first play of the second quarter, an 11-yard run with 14:56 left to put NDSU up 14-0.
Rovig was back in on MSU's next drive, while Mellott stood on the sidelines with a headset making signals. The Bobcats converted a first down but punted on the next series.
NDSU made it 21-0 with 10:50 left in the half on a 76-yard run from Kobe Johnson. As it did on the previous two drives, NDSU's offensive line opened up a big hole up the middle.
On the first play of the following drive, Rovig threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Dawson Weber.
The Cats forced a three-and-out on the next drive, the first that didn't end in a touchdown for the Bison. MSU got the ball back with 8:41 left in the half.
On third down and 12, Rovig completed a 30-yard pass to Lance McCutcheon around the seven-minute mark. That gave the Bozeman native 53 yards for the game and 1,166 for the season, breaking the program record for single-season receiving yards. The previous best was 1,149 in 1984 by Joe Bignell.
Luepke scored his third TD on a six-yard run with 32 seconds left in the first half.
NDSU out-gained MSU 344-149 in total yards in the half, including 268-70 on the ground. The Bison averaged 9.6 yards per carry, while MSU finished that half at 4.4.
Mellott missed the rest of the half after the first drive.
SCORE: North Dakota State 28, Montana State 0
THIRD QUARTER: NDSU went ahead 35-0 on a 35-yard TD pass from Cam Miller to Josh Babich with 12:34 left in the quarter.
MSU got on the board on the next drive with a 26-yard field goal from Glessner at the 7:43 mark, making the deficit 35-3.
Three plays before the field goal, MSU linebacker Troy Andersen lined up on offense next to the tight end in an H-back/wing position. He got the ball but was tackled for a three-yard loss, and he went back to the sideline.
The Cats got the ball back after forcing a punt, but a deep Rovig pass on fourth and short fell incomplete.
NDSU went back ahead by 35 points when Jake Reinholz made a 37-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the quarter.
SCORE: North Dakota State 38, Montana State 3
FOURTH QUARTER: MSU got into NDSU territory to start the fourth, but the drive ended with another turnover on downs.
McCutcheon accounted for MSU's first and only TD, a 28-yard pass from Rovig with 5:08 left to make the score 38-10.
FINAL SCORE: North Dakota State 38, Montana State 10