No. 3-seeded Bison overpower Montana to advance to the FCS quarterfinals
NDSU scored four rushing touchdowns of more than 60 yards to fuel a second-round playoff victory against the Montana Grizzlies.
FARGO — North Dakota State went big-run chasing Saturday afternoon at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
The Bison succeeded.
NDSU had four touchdown runs of at least 68 yards to spark a 49-26 victory against Montana in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs before 12,929 fans.
"We needed to win that battle," Bison head coach Matt Entz said of creating explosive plays. "We had some big-time plays today."
NDSU (10-2) has won five consecutive games and advanced to the FCS quarterfinals, which the Bison are slated to host next weekend at the Fargodome against No. 6 seed Samford. NDSU has advanced to the FCS quarterfinals for a 13th consecutive season.
“I love this team and the only regret I have about the season is I don’t get to coach next week," said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck. “We want to win every game.”
Bison running back Kobe Johnson sparked the ground game, rushing for 206 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts. Both of Johnson's TD runs were more than 70 yards. NDSU ran for 453 yards on 42 attempts, averaging 10.8 yards per carry.
"The O-line, it's a testament to them," Johnson said.
The Grizzlies scored first in the second half. Cornerback Corbin Walker intercepted a Cam Miller pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown, cutting the Bison lead to 21-20 with 10 minutes, 58 seconds to play in the third quarter. Montana had appeared to seize the momentum, but NDSU countered with the next 28 points.
Johnson answered moments later with a 75-yard touchdown run for a 28-20 lead with 10:46 remaining in the third quarter.
“Snatching the momentum right back from them," Entz said. "That was a critical play at a huge time. I would have been fine with a long drive. ... He’s good for a couple of these (long runs) every year.”
NDSU running back TaMerik Williams added a 68-yard TD run on the ensuing drive for a 35-20 lead with 6:51 to play in the third quarter. That two-play drive covered 70 yards and came after Bison safety Dawson Weber's interception.
Williams rushed for 101 yards and a TD on 11 attempts.
Johnson added a 73-yard scoring run for a 42-20 lead with 13:17 to play in the fourth quarter. Running back TK Marshall added a 7-yard TD run for a 49-20 lead with 5:24 remaining. Johnson said Montana's aggressive defensive style presented chances to for big plays.
"“When you move around like that, it creates gaps," Johnson said.
Montana receiver Keelan White caught a 28-yard touchdown that cut the Bison lead to 49-26 with 1:05 remaining to close out the scoring.
The Bison got their run game going early, and Miller scored on a 10-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 8:42 remaining in the first quarter. That capped a 76-yard drive that took six plays. Wide receiver Zach Mathis had a 29-yard reception that moved the ball to the Montana 15. Two plays later, Miller scampered into the end zone.
Miller added a big play with his legs on the next drive, scoring on a career-long 68-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead with 5:57 to play in the first quarter. That capped a 73-yard drive that took three plays.
Montana countered on the ensuing drive. Grizzlies quarterback Lucas Johnson scored on a 1-yard TD run to cut the Bison lead to 14-7 with 1:18 to play in the opening quarter. That drive covered 66 yards and took 14 plays.
Montana kicker Nico Ramos added a 39-yard field goal that cut the NDSU lead to 14-10 with 9:26 to play in the second quarter. That capped a 10-play, 67-yard drive.
Bison linebacker Cole Wisniewski recovered a fumble in the end zone for a 21-10 lead with 58 seconds to play in the first half. NDSU defensive tackle Kody Huisman sacked Johnson and jarred the ball loose. A scramble ensued and Wisniewksi covered the ball for the defensive score. Johnson was injured on that play and didn't returned.
“It was a shame we gave up the touchdown in the second quarter on offense," Hauck said. "That was tough on us.”
Ramos booted a 36-yard field goal that cut the Bison lead to 21-13 with nine seconds remaining in the first half. The Grizzlies started that drive at their own 49-yard line after a good kick return.
“Right there before half giving up a field goal was a little frustrating," Entz said. "You never want to give a team an extra possession like that.”