FARGO, N.D. – In just seconds a dynasty that appeared vulnerable became unbeatable.
Christian Watson scored long touchdowns on back-to-back touches early in the second quarter and two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State blitzed Montana State 42-14 in a semifinal on Saturday for its 36th straight victory.
“It was a crazy experience out there today,” Watson said after gaining 86 yards on three runs and 88 on two receptions.
Trey Lance found Watson behind the defense along the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown one play after the Bobcats tied the game at 7. After a three-and-out by Montana State, Watson went 70 yards on a reverse. Both plays took 10 seconds and came less than two minutes apart.
“Explosive,” Lance said. “Anytime he gets the ball in his hands, I’m not catching him. I don’t know if a lot of guys are going to catch him. This dude, he can turn on the burners. He’ sreally explosive with the ball in his hands.”
Lance threw for three touchdowns, including a 73-yard hookup with Dimitri Williams, and scored two rushing touchdowns.
The top-seeded Bison (15-0) were in the semifinals for the ninth straight year. They have now won eight with the previous seven bringing national titles. North Dakota State faces the winner of Weber State at second-seeded James Madison. James Madison beat the Bison in the semifinals in 2016.
Montana State (11-4) lost to NDSU 52-10 in the second round last year.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” first-year head coavh Matt Entz said. “I’m probably afraid to go home and take a nap. I feel I’ll wake up and we’ll be getting ready for Butler (the season opener) or something like that. It would be a dream. It’s gone unbelievably fast.”
The Bobcats were impressed.
“(NDSU is) an awesome team, man. We did not have a lot of answers for their explosive players, (Watson) in particular had a tremendous night,” coach Jeff Choate said. “I thought he was a matchup problem for us. They diversified their run game a little bit, leaned on their quarterback run game early. They had a really good game plan.
A week after being held to three field goals in a 9-3 quarterfinal win over Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State, the Bison scored on their opening drive, going 73 yards in 12 plays with Lance scoring on an 8-yard keeper. The Bobcats finally broke through with an eight-play, 8-yard drive with Travis Jonsen covering the final yard on a Wildcat formation play.
That’s when the roof caved in for Montana State, with the Bison successful adding a two-point conversation after Watson’s second score for a 22-7 lead.
On the last possession of the first half the Bison marched 76 yards on 15 plays, milking the clock for 8 minutes, 20 seconds, before Lance hit Jimmy Kepouros for a 6-yard touchdown.
Montana State scored on a 41-yard pass from Tucker Rovig to Kevin Kassis two plays after recovering a Bison fumble, cutting the deficit to 29-14 but the momentum was short lived. Just two plays later, Lance, a redshirt freshman who has not throw an interception this season, had plenty of time to move around in the pocket before finding Williams alone down the right sideline.
After an interception and big return by Michael Tutsie, Lance capped the scoring with a 6-yard run.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys for taking this next step,” Choate said. We’ve been here twice and don’t have a particularly good taste in our mouths, but success has a lot of tests and one of them is failure. We’ll continue to push forward. I’m proud of our seniors and I know they won’t let a game define who they are as men.”
Montana State: The Bobcats were averaging 265.9 yards a game on the ground, while North Dakota State allows 133.4 On this day, MSU got just 148.
North Dakota State: The Bison average 285.9 rushing and MSU allows 107.1. NDSU piled up 318 yards on the ground, more than the Bobcats’ 298 yards of total offense, and finished with 541 yards in total offense.
The Bobcats head the series with the Bison, which dates back to 1914, 21-15 and have a playoff win, that coming in 1976. MSU won the Division II semifinal, called the Grantland Rice Bowl, 10-7 in Fargo. The Bobcats went on to win the D-II title.
The Bison also beat Montana State 42-17 in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. That was the season that started NDSU’s streak of 10-straight playoffs, although the Bison lost at Eastern Washington, the eventual national champions, in the quarterfinals.
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