PHOTOS: A visual recap of a 28-point Bison victory vs. Montana State for an unrivaled 9th FCS national title
North Dakota State has a 130-7 record during its nine FCS championship seasons since 2011.
FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State scored the game's first 35 points and rolled to a 38-10 victory against Montana State on Saturday, Jan. 8, for the NCAA Division I FCS national championship before 18,942 fans at Toyota Stadium.
The Bison rushed for 378 yards on 53 attempts and had a 28-point halftime lead en route to an unprecedented ninth FCS national titles in 11 seasons. NDSU fullback Hunter Luepke was named the game's most outstanding players, scoring all of his three rushing touchdowns in the first half.
The Bison held Montana State scoreless in the first half and took a 35-0 lead after tight end Josh Babicz's touchdown catch on the first drive of the second half.
Below is a visual review of the championship game:
Luepke set the tone, capping NDSU's first drive with an 8-yard TD run and running over a Montana State defender in the process at the goal line. That capped an 80-yard drive that took 11 plays and lasted a shade over five minutes for a 7-0 lead with 6 minutes, 48 seconds to play in the first quarter.
"I like to hit people," said the 6-foot-1, 236-pound Luepke. "I like to bring the violence to them. I'm not that fast, so if I have to chance to hit somebody I'm going to do it."
Luepke found the end zone again on the first play of the second quarter, slicing through the line of scrimmage before breaking into the open for an 11-yard TD run that gave the Bison a 14-0 lead with 14:56 to play until halftime. That capped a 75-yard drive that took seven plays and lasted more than three minutes.
Luepke credited the offensive line for the running room he found throughout the day, including senior offensive tackle Cordell Volson.
"You have Cordell Volson, brings juice every day, no matter what time it is," Luepke said. "It could be 4:30 a.m. and he's the first one there getting everybody jacked up. He's the leader of that group. Just a great bunch of guys, fun to be around. They do an amazing job every Saturday and it showed today. We had 500 yards of offense. That's on them."
The Bison finished with 504 yards on 66 plays.
Bison running back Kobe Johnson showed his big-play ability on NDSU's third possession. After losing one yard on the first play of the drive. Johnson found a crease, broke into the open and raced down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown for 21-0 lead with 10:50 remaining in the second quarter.
The 5-foot-9, 188-pound Johnson rushed for a team-high 106 yards on four attempts.
"People might call it boring football when we're out here running the ball three, four, five yards a carry," said Bison offensive tackle Cody Mauch. "But that turns into explosive plays. We like to think we're the heart and soul of the team. It's pretty good."
The Bison used a unique formation that led to Luepke's third and final touchdown. NDSU quarterback Cam Miller motioned out wide from under center and then Luepke took a direct snap, ran between the tackles and broke a tackle on a 6-yard TD run that gave the Bison a 28-0 lead with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
"We talked about starting fast and that's what we did," Volson said. "It helps that we have guys like Hunter Luepke and TaMerik Williams and Kobe Johnson back there. Guys that are just really good at what they do, who sometimes make us look better than what we are. We just pride ourselves on being physical. We started fast and came out and punched them in the mouth on the first play."
The Bison rushed for 268 yards on 28 attempts in the first half. Luepke rushed for 64 yards and three TDs on nine attempts in the opening 30 minutes. NDSU backup quarterback Quincy Patterson rushed for 87 yards on eight carries in the opening half.
The Bison offense continued to roll on the first drive of the second half. NDSU quarterback Cam Miller found a wide open Babicz on a play-action throwback pass. Babicz zipped into the end zone for a 35-0 lead with 12:34 to play in the third quarter.
That capped a 65-yard drive that lasted six plays and took more than two minutes. That was NDSU's shortest TD drive of the game. The average Bison touchdown drive against the Bobcats was 76 yards. Montana State entered the game limiting opponents to 13.4 points and 108.1 rushing yards per game.
"You can see them with their hands on their hips," Mauch said. "You keep pounding on them. They are tapping out, getting hurt and whatnot. You just keep leaning on them."
The teams traded field goals later in the third quarter. Bobcats kicker Blake Gessner booted a 26-yard field goal that cut the Bison lead to 35-3 with 7:43 to play in the third.
NDSU kicker Jake Reinholz centered a 37-yard field goal for a 38-3 lead with 38 seconds to play in the third quarter. The Bison rushed for 335 yards on 40 attempts and had 446 total yards on 52 plays through three quarters.
Montana State found the end zone in the fourth quarter after wide receiver Lance McCutcheon caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tucker Rovig to cut the Bison lead to 38-10 with 5:08 remaining.
“They were the better team for sure today," said Montana State first-year head coach Brent Vigen, a former NDSU player and offensive coordinator. "They were able to play their brand of football. They grabbed the momentum really quick and we were never able to get it back.”
Montana State played most of the game without starting quarterback Tommy Mellott. The redshirt freshman suffered on a lower-leg injury on the game's opening drive. He finished that opening series, but was unable to return. Rovig came on in relief and played the remainder of the game.
Rovig completed 13 of 28 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown with one interception. He also rushed for 51 yards on eight attempts.
“I think it definitely changed us, but it’s the next-man-up mentality," Vigen said. "That’s Tucker’s first real live bullets this season. He’s got a lot of game experience in his past. I thought he went out there and competed really well.”
The 6-foot-6, 301-pound Mauch, from Hankinson, N.D., became a national sensation with his sliding first down signal after Miller scrambled for a first down on NDSU's opening drive. The moment turned into a popular video clip on social media.
"I don't know if you can get much better than that," Volson said.
Luepke finished with 82 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 14 attempts to earn the most outstanding player honors. The Bison lost in the FCS quarterfinals last spring after winning the three previous national championships.
"Last year sucked," Luepke said. "It really did. That's not what we wanted to do, how we wanted to go out."
Bison defensive end Brayden Thomas added: "This is everything and more, man. It's hard to put into words, but I'm up on a stage celebrating a national championship. It doesn't get any better than that."
The Bison are 9-0 in FCS championship games since 2011. Their nine titles in an FCS record ahead of Georgia Southern, which is second with six championships.
NDSU has a 130-7 record in those nine championship season with three undefeated national title teams.
“I kind of like with our (pregame) hype video, this was the first championship for this team,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “I don’t get caught up too much in the numbers, but I’m super excited with this group of young men.”