The Score – No. 1 seed North Dakota State (15-0) beat No. 5 seed Montana State (11-4) 42-14 in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs.
Story Line – The two-time defending national champion Bison scored three touchdowns of at least 70 yards in advancing to the title game for the eighth time in nine years. They raised their FCS-record winning streak to 36 since 2017.
Game Balls – Sophomore Christian Watson scored on a 75-yard reception and a 70-yard run over a 1-minute, 43-second span early in the second quarter, deflating much of the visiting Bobcats’ hopes, on the way to collecting a career-high 174 scrimmage yards on five touches. OK, it doesn’t hurt to have 2019 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award winner Trey Lance (287 yards of total offense, five total TDs) distributing the ball. He ad-libbed the other long TD on a scramble and 73-yard pass to Dimitri Williams.
Key Stat – NDSU, showing its speed as much as power, had great offensive balance in outgaining Montana State 541-298. The matchup featured two of the top seven FCS rushing offenses, but the Bison’s ground advantage was 318-148 despite having two fewer carries.
The Takeaway – There’s nothing like the motivation of a challenge. NSDU answered last week’s first game without a touchdown since 2014 (and the first at home since 2002) with a Lance TD run on their opening drive. Then after Montana State tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter, the Bison counter-punched with Watson’s first TD on the next play from scrimmage (and the other one soon after). With three weeks leading into the championship, the Missouri Valley Conference champ can find motivation in many ways.
Up Next – NDSU will play No. 2 James Madison (14-1), which eliminated Weber State in the other semifinal, in a long-anticipated FCS championship game Jan. 11 in Frisco, Texas. The Bison, who are 7-0 in title games, have moved into a tie with six-time champion Georgia Southern for the most championship game appearances (eight). They hold a 2-1 series lead over JMU – all postseason games since 2011.