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Montana State’s surprise season comes to end in Fargo

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By Colter Nuanez EBS Contributor

A tumultuous season that finished with a surge, came to a screeching halt for the Montana State Bobcats at the Fargodome on the first Saturday of December.

MSU traveled to North Dakota State as one of the hottest FCS teams in the West. At the end of October, many had left the Bobcats for dead. But four straight wins, which included a goal line stand to beat the rival Grizzlies and the first playoff win at Montana State in six years, had MSU feeling optimistic entering the round of 16.

MSU President Waded Cruzado served as an honorary captain Dec. 1, walking onto the hostile field with the standard collection of leaders for the pre-game coin toss. The Bobcats won the flip and elected to take the ball first, playing in one of the most fearsome venues in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Montana State quarterback Troy Andersen lofted a deep pass on the first play of the game that landed right in captain Kevin Kassis’ breadbasket. The junior sprinted nearly to the end zone, diving for the pylon before being ruled down at the North Dakota State 4-yard line.

MSU settled for a 24-yard field goal from Tristan Bailey. The rest of the game belonged to North Dakota State, a dynasty unrivaled in the history of college football.

The Bison are heavyweights the caliber of Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson. North Dakota State boxed the Bobcats into a corner with a 39-yard kickoff return to spark a scoring drive on its first possession. And the hosts threw haymaker after haymaker the rest of the first half, battering and bludgeoning the hard-nosed Bobcats with startling physicality, sound execution, relentless effort and a power running attack that was as advertised.

By the time the first half dust settled, the only semblance of a stop earned by the Bobcat defense came after a bobbled snap led to a blocked punt, which gave the Bison possession at the MSU 14. MSU held the Bison to a field goal, hardly any consolation for the drubbing Montana State found itself on the wrong of in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

The defending national champion Bison rushed for 243 yards on just 21 carries, Lance Dunn scored four rushing touchdowns and NDSU rolled to a 38-3 advantage at halftime on the way to a thorough and convincing 52-10 victory over the Bobcats.

NDSU, winners of six of the last seven FCS national titles, won at the Fargodome for the 22nd time in 23 playoff games at the raucous venue. North Dakota State has now won 109 of 117 games dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season.

Montana State head coach Jeff Choate examines his play card during a game at Bobcat Stadium earlier this season. Choate led the Bobcats to their first winning season since 2014 and to the second round of the FCS playoffs. PHOTO BY JASON BACAJ/SKYLINE SPORTS

“It starts at the line of scrimmage and you can tell how dominant they were on the offensive side of the ball on the offensive line,” Choate said. “I really liked their running backs and [quarterback] Easton Stick, what can you say about him? The ultimate winner at this level.

“You know what I take away from that? I have to go recruiting tomorrow,” he added. “That’s what I take away from that.”

NDSU will host No. 8 Colgate on Dec. 8. The Raiders (10-1) used a 14-point third quarter to emerge with a 23-20 win over James Madison in the second round Dec. 1.

Montana State quarterback Troy Andersen ended his outstanding sophomore season with 1,412 rushing yards, the most ever by a quarterback in the Big Sky Conference. He scored MSU’s lone touchdown on Saturday, a 51-yard burst on a fourth down try.

The touchdown was his 21st of the season, breaking Don Hass’ school record that had stood since 1966. Andersen finished with nine 100-yard rushing games this season, breaking Matt Engelking’s school record set in 1995.

Montana State’s record of 8-5 included four straight wins to enter their final contest as one of the hottest teams in the country. A team picked to finish eighth in the Big Sky Conference instead reached the round of 16 in the FCS playoffs for the first time since MSU lost to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals of the 2012 playoffs.

“We were picked to finish eighth by the media, the coaches, everybody, and one thing we hang our hats on in this program is the courage to live our lives as we see ourselves, not as others see us and don’t let somebody else define you,” Choate said. “We are going to learn from this, lick our wounds and get better.

“The thing I love about this team and these young men is that’s how they look at it. They have bought into that and they believe it,” he added. “We had an opportunity to play extra football this year and nobody else thought we would. I’m proud of what these guys accomplished.”

The finish marks Montana State’s first winning record since 2014 and first under Choate.

Montana State captains, nose tackle Tucker Yates, defensive tackle Zach Wright, and center Alex Neale, along with classmates inside linebacker Grant Collins, defensive end Tyrone Fa’anono and tight ends Connor Sullivan, Curtis Amos and Wilson Brott, each played the final game of their Bobcat careers in Fargo. Injured wide receivers John D’Agostino and Jabarri Johnson, along with early graduating offensive lineman Colin Hammock, will also move on from the football program.

Junior safety Brayden Konkol finished the game with a game-high 10 tackles for Montana State. Collins notched eight stops and Hill made five tackles and the interception in his first game back since the end of the 2017 season.

Montana State opens its 2019 season at Texas Tech on Aug. 31.

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