FCS Playoff Semifinal
The Matchup – No. 5 seed Montana State (11-3, 6-2 Big Sky) at No. 1 seed North Dakota State (14-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley)
Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET Saturday at the Fargodome (18,700) in Fargo, North Dakota
Coverage – ESPN2
Series – Montana State leads 21-14 overall, but trails 2-1 in playoff games (last meeting: North Dakota State won 52-10 at home on Dec. 1, 2018 in the FCS second round)
Coaches – Montana State: Jeff Choate (28-21, four seasons); North Dakota State: Matt Entz (14-0, first season)
Players to Watch – Montana State: QB Tucker Rovig (159 of 257, 1,819 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs), RB Isaiah Ifanse (115 carries, 753 yards, 6 TD), WR Kevin Kassis (65 receptions, 826 yards, 5 TDs), DE Bryce Sterk (61 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 15 sacks), FS Brayden Konkol (57 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries); North Dakota State: QB Trey Lance (171 of 256, 2,491 yards, 25 TDs, 0 INTs; 128 carries, 870 yards, 11 TDs), WR Christian Watson (32 receptions, 644 yards, 5 TDs), DE Derrek Tuszka (39 tackles, 16½ tackles for loss, 11½ sacks), OLB Jabril Cox (78 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 4½ sacks), SS Michael Tutsie (91 tackles, 6 INTs)
The Skinny – Montana State is seeking its first appearance in the FCS championship game since winning the 1984 title, while North Dakota State is trying to reach Frisco, Texas, for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. The big question is, who will pound the rock better? Both teams are among the best in the FCS in rushing yards per game: NDSU is ranked fourth (285.9) and Montana State seventh (265.9). Illinois State had the Bison playing not to lose in their 9-3, quarterfinal-round win, and Montana State seeks to do the same. The Bobcats beat Austin Peay 24-10 in the quarters behind Ifanse’s 196 rushing yards, TD run and TD pass, and have outscored opponents 233-83 during a six-game win streak. Logan Jones leads the team in rushing yards (866), all-purpose yards (1,226) and TDs (nine). In two playoff wins, Rovig has completed 74 percent of his passes with four TDs and no INTs. On defense, Sterk, DE Amandre Williams and DT Derek Marks have combined for 51½ tackles for loss, and the Bobcats (41 sacks) will get after Lance, whose only turnover was a lost fumble in the season opener. In the last two weeks, Tristan Bailey is only 2 of 6 on field goal attempts. Not only is a title game berth at stake, so, too, is NDSU’s FCS-record 35-game winning streak. The Bison haven’t committed a turnover in six straight games and spread the carries between Lance and RBs Ty Brooks (902 yards, 5 TDs), Adam Cofield (719, 11) and Kobe Johnson (611, 4). Watson is coming off a career-high seven receptions in the quarters and Ben Ellefson has 16 career TD catches, the NDSU record for a tight end. The Bison are No. 1 in the FCS in points allowed per game (11.6) and passing yards allowed per game (1331), but their run defense has worn down a bit, allowing just 87.9 rushing yards on three yards per carry in the first seven games and 181.6 and 4.4, respectively, in the last seven games. MLB Jackson Hankey has a team-high 101 tackles, reaching double figures in each of the last three games.
Up Next – The winner will play either No. 2 James Madison or No. 3 seed Weber State in the FCS championship game Jan. 11.
Prediction – Montana State’s excellence at the line of scrimmage suggests this game will get dicey for the Bison, but the two-time defending national champs rarely get rattled in tight situations. North Dakota State, 24-19.