Bison overwhelm Montana State, powering their way to 9th FCS national championship
North Dakota State overpowered Montana State to earn a ninth FCS national championship in the past 11 seasons.
FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State scored on its first three drives and the game's first 35 points Saturday at Toyota Stadium.
That strong start fueled the Bison to a 38-10 victory against Montana State to win the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title before 18,942 fans.
"Once again we took over Frisco and I'm so excited for these players," Bison head coach Matt Entz said. "This was the first championship for this team. ... We seldom talk about past championships."
The Bison (14-1) earned a ninth FCS national crown in the past 11 seasons, adding to their record championship total in the subdivision. The Bobcats (12-3) were playing in their first national title game since 1984.
“We’ve got to keep pushing the envelope," said Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen, a former NDSU player and offensive coordinator. "That’s what North Dakota State has continued to do in every facet of that program is to continue to push the envelope.”
NDSU rushed for 380 yards on 53 attempts against the Bobcats and finished with 506 total yards. Bison running back Kobe Johnson rushed for 106 yards and a TD on four attempts to lead the ground game. NDSU fullback Hunter Luepke rushed for 82 yards and three touchdowns on 14 attempts and was named the game's most outstanding player.
"We had a lot of juice going through our veins," Luepke said.
NDSU pushed its lead to five touchdowns early in the second half. Bison quarterback Cam Miller threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Babicz that gave NDSU a 35-0 lead with 12 minutes, 34 seconds to play in the third quarter. Miller completed 9 of 13 passes for 126 yards and the lone touchdown pass.
“They were the better team for sure today," Vigen said. "They were able to play their brand of football. They grabbed the momentum really quick and we were never able to get it back.”
Montana State scored its first points after kicker Blake Glessner booted a 26-yard field goal with 7:43 to play in the third quarter. The Bison pushed their lead back to 35 points after kicker Jake Reinholz centered a 37-yard field goal for a 38-3 lead with 38 seconds to play in the third quarter.
“Everything we drew up happened, so it was a good day,” Luepke said.
MSU wide receiver Lance McCutcheon caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from QB Tanner Rovig to cut the Bison lead to 38-10 with 5:08 to play in the fourth quarter for the final margin.
The Bobcats played nearly the entire game without starting quarterback Tommy Mellott. The freshman sensation suffered a lower leg injury on the game's opening drive and didn't return. Rovig came on in relief of Mellott. Rovig started against the Bison in the 2019 FCS semifinals at the Fargodome.
“I think it definitely changed us, but it’s the next-man-up mentality," Vigen said. "That’s Tucker’s first real live bullets this season. He’s got a lot of game experience in his past. I thought he went out there and competed really well.”
NDSU dominated the first half with its ground game, rushing for 268 yards and four touchdowns on 28 attempts in the opening 30 minutes.
"People might call it boring football when we're out here running the ball three, four, five yards a carry," said Bison offensive tackle Cody Mauch. "But that turns into explosive plays. We like to think we're the heart and soul of the team. It's pretty good."
The Bison scored on their first three possessions, touchdown drives that covered 80, 74 and 75 yards. NDSU's fourth scoring drive in the first half covered 85 yards.
The 6-foot-1, 236-pound Luepke had a big first half, rushing for 64 yards and three TDs on nine attempts. Bison backup quarterback Quincy Patterson rushed for 87 yards on eight attempts by halftime. The 6-foot-3, 246-pound Patterson finished with 98 yards on 11 carries.
Luepke capped his first half with a 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 28-0 lead with 32 seconds to play in the second quarter. Johnson also delivered with a 76-yard scoring run that gave the Bison a 21-0 lead with 10:50 to play in the first half.
Luepke found the end zone once in the first quarter with an 8-yard touchdown run that gave the Bison a 7-0 lead with 6:48 to play in the first. He added an 11-yard scoring run for a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. On Luepke's first rushing TD, he ran over a Bobcats defender at the goal line.
"I like to hit people," Luepke said. "I like to bring the violence to them. I'm not that fast, so if I have to chance to hit somebody I'm going to do it."
The Bison limited MSU to 149 yards on 33 plays in the opening half, while NDSU gained 344 yards on 38 plays by halftime. The Bison finished with a 506-335 edge in yards.
“It leaves a very sour taste in your mouth," Vigen said. "It hurts a lot. Our guys put a lot into this for a long time.”
Bison defensive end Brayden Thomas was on the other end of the emotional spectrum.
"This is everything and more, man," Thomas said. "It's hard to put into words, but I'm up on a stage celebrating a national championship. It doesn't get any better than that."