Rapid Reaction: Montana State 31, South Dakota State 17

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Posted at 2:54 PM, Dec 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-18 17:42:58-05

BOZEMAN — Party like it's 1984. The Montana State Bobcats are headed to the national championship game.

In front of a sold-out Bobcat Stadium in below-freezing temperatures, the Bobcats topped the South Dakota State Jackrabbits 31-17 in the FCS semifinals on Saturday afternoon. The game sends MSU to the national championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 8, 2022, the first time MSU has been to the title game since 1984 when the Bobcats won it all.

Photos: Montana State defeats South Dakota State in FCS semifinals

The Bobcats opened the game with a big stop on South Dakota State's first drive when the Jackrabbits drove all the way down to the MSU 7-yard line but Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year Troy Andersen tackled running back Isaiah Davis for a two-yard loss to prevent any points.

Montana State then turned that into points as Tommy Mellott hit Nate Stewart down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown as the Bobcats took a 7-0 lead with 3:28 left in the first quarter.

SDSU would tie it 7-7 before the end of the quarter, but Blake Glessner would give the Bobcats a 10-7 lead with a 27-yard field goal, and the Jackrabbits would respond when Chris Oladokun found Jadon Janke for a 13-yard score with 6:55 left in the first half.

MSU then responded as Mellott scored on a keeper from four yards out to make it 17-14. SDSU would tie it just before half with a field goal from Cole Frahm that went 51 yards.

The Bobcats would take the lead for good at the end of the third quarter. After getting the ball with 6:29 left in the third, the Bobcats used a 12-play drive that was capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Mellott to end the third frame to make it 24-17.

The tide continued to turn in the fourth quarter when Simeon Woodward picked off Oladokun and MSU quickly turned that into points as the Bobcats used a four-play drive capped off by a touchdown pass from Mellott to Lance McCutcheon for 17 yards.

MSU's defense continued to hold the Jackrabbits from there as the Bobcats sealed the win and trip to the national championship. The Bobcats were also playing short-handed without running backs Isaiah Ifanse and Lane Sumner and were also without defensive lineman Chase Benson and defensive back Ty Okada.

TURNING POINT: Woodward's interception. After Mellott gave the Bobcats the lead for good, Oladokun was sacked by Amandre Williams that forced a second and long. Two plays later, Woodward picked him off to end the drive and MSU padded it's lead with Mellott's touchdown pass to McCutcheon.

STAT OF THE GAME: 17, SDSU's point total. The Jackrabbits came into the game averaging 37.5 points per game as a top-10 scoring offense in the FCS but MSU's defense held the Jackrabbits to their lowest point total of the season on Saturday.

GAME BALLS: Mellott, MSU's defense. Mellott finished the game with two rushing touchdowns and two passing along with 384 yards of total offense. Mellott carried the ball 34 times for 155 yards and completed 9 of 14 passes for 229 yards. Meanwhile, MSU's defense forced two turnovers, including the game-sealing fumble recovery at the end, and held SDSU to just 17 points, 20 below its season average. MSU also held SDSU to 1 for 4 on fourth down.

WHAT'S NEXT: The FCS national championship as Montana State (12-2) will take on North Dakota State (13-1) in the final game of the year in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 8, 2022.