FCS Championship Preview - Montana State vs North Dakota State

Want to watch the FCS Championship game? David Burgess has you covered

North Dakota State in familiar territory; Montana State first Championship appearance since 1984.

As Vizini says to the man in black in The Princess Bride, “It is down to you, and it is down to me.” The two characters in that classic movie had not met; the same, however, cannot be said for the Bison and Bobcats. NDSU won the two previous meetings in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs. And while there was a bit of unexpected trickery and mental gymnastics involved in that duel, we have a fairly clear idea of the style of play we’ll see in Saturday's final FCS tilt.

Game Details:

NCAA Football Championship Subdivision—Championship Game

#2 seed North Dakota State Bison (13-1, 1st MVFC) vs #8 seed Montana State Bobcats (12-2, 2nd Big Sky)

Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 12 pm EST. ESPN2

Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas

Last meeting: North Dakota State 42-14, December 21, 2019

Let’s Get To It, Already

When Montana State takes on North Dakota State in the FCS Championship Jan 8, we will have been waiting two weeks for the final game of the season. The FCS season is a bit of a marathon anyway, what with an eleven-game regular season followed by a 24-team playoff. AND there’s the Celebration Bowl (featuring the MEAC and SWAC Champions), which is the only bowl game on the FCS level. We fans of FCS football are blessed with an abundance of games to enjoy, all the way into December.

But once the semifinal games end, there is a two-week wait for the Championship game. I am practically salivating in anticipation of this clash. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Both teams feature run-first offenses and stingy defenses. North Dakota State averages 273.6 rushing yards per game, good enough for 3rd in FCS. The Bobcats rank 7th with 225.5 rushing ypg. Conversely, both have excellent run defenses; NDSU is 3rd and MSU 13th nationally. And in the defensive stat that would seem to matter most—scoring defense—Montana State allows 13.43 ppg (2nd in FCS) while the Bison are 1st in FCS, allowing only 11.21 ppg.

It’ll be interesting to see how well defenses hold up; these “Rise and Grind” offenses average 33.8 (NDSU) and 30 (MSU) points per game, respectively.

A Bit of Familiarity

As mentioned earlier, the Bison and Cats have met in the playoffs two times before. On both occasions, NDSU won on the way to championship seasons. But there is another taste of familiarity with these combatants: Montana State’s coach. Brent Vigen, in his first season as the Bobcats’ Head Coach, has continued the string of success they enjoyed under Jeff Choate.

Vigen brought his own legacy of success from, you guessed it, North Dakota State. A tight end at NDSU in the mid-1990s, Vigen went on to be a position coach and OC for the Bison following his college career. Before coming to MSU, Vigen was an assistant at Wyoming. He was QB coach for Josh Allen, currently the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback.

Key Players

Tommy Mellott, Quarterback, Montana State. “Touchdown Tommy,” as he’s known in Bobcat circles, was thrust into the starting job following MSU’s 29-10 loss to rival Montana in their closing regular-season game. When Matthew McKay entered the transfer portal, Mellott took over for good and has made the most of his playoff opportunities. The 6’0’ 195lb QB has 4 TD passes, 6 rushing TDs and 1 TD catch. He has 449 passing yards and 411 (count ‘em, 411) rushing yards during that same three-game stretch.

Isaiah Ifanse, Running Back, Montana State. Ifanse is currently questionable for the Championship tilt but has been mostly unstoppable when healthy. At 1,539 yards, he is third in FCS in rushing.

Troy Andersen, Linebacker, Montana State. All-American LB Andersen is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the best defensive player in FCS. The 6’4”235lb backer has 137 tackles, 14 TFL, 2 sacks and one INT to his credit.

Lewis Kidd, Left Tackle, Montana State. Kidd, a 2nd team All-American, leads an excellent O-Line on one of the most productive rushing offenses in the country.

Michael Tutsie, Safety, North Dakota State. 1st Team All-American.

Jackson Hankey, Middle Linebacker, North Dakota State. Hankey has 93 total tackles, leading the Bison defense.

Cordell Volson, Right Tackle/Right Guard, North Dakota State. The First Team All-American comes in at 6’7” 313lbs and anchors an offense that averages 273.6 rushing ypg.

Christian Williams photo by NDSU Athletics

Christian Watson, Wide Receiver, North Dakota State. Watson has 8 TDs on the year but has been out due to injury during the playoffs. While the Bison rely on the run heavily, Watson could make a splash in the Championship game if fully healthy.

Get It and Go!

What any fan wishes for is a good game. As someone with no allegiance to either team (full disclosure: as a Griz fan I loathe the Cats one game a year), my wish is for an entertaining game to the last play. Will the Bison add yet another trophy to a full case, or will the Bobcats take home their first championship since 1984? Only one way to find out…

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