FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota State’s dynasty is intact and as dominant as ever.
The top-ranked and undefeated Bison thoroughly overwhelmed Montana State in a 52-10 beatdown in the second round of the FCS football playoffs Saturday at the Fargodome. NDSU improved to 12-0 with the win and will now meet Colgate in next week’s quarterfinals.
No. 23 Montana State, which finished its season with an 8-5 overall record, demonstrated its progress this season, the third under head coach Jeff Choate, but also showed how much more it must improve on Saturday. Bringing a four-game win streak into the second round of the playoffs, the Bobcats struck quickly in Fargo. Troy Andersen connected with Kevin Kassis on a 71-yard pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage, but Kassis was pushed out of bounds at the North Dakota State 4-yard line.
The next three plays would be indicative of the rest of the game. Travis Jonsen carried for no gain, Kevin Kassis got 2 yards, and Andersen’s third-down pass to Connor Sullivan fell incomplete. MSU settled for a 24-yard field goal from Tristan Bailey and booted the ball back to NDSU.
The Bison settled in on that drive, covering 60 yards in nine plays, capping the series with a 1-yard touchdown run from Lance Dunn. That was just the beginning of a dominant first-half onslaught.
NDSU scored touchdowns on its first five possessions and limited Montana State to just 89 yards the rest of the half. The Bison’s multi-dimensional rushing attack was led by Dunn and Bruce Anderson in the first half. Dunn added three more scores before the halftime break — runs of 11, 1 and 46 yards. Anderson had a 32-yard scoring run just before the end of the first quarter to give the Bison a 21-3 lead.
“It starts at the line of scrimmage,” said Cats head coach Jeff Choate. “You can tell how dominant they were on the offensive side of the ball on the offensive line. I really like their running backs. Easton Stick, what can you say about him? The ultimate winner at this level. You know what I take away from that? I gotta go recruiting tomorrow.”
The NDSU advantage ballooned to 38-3 by halftime as Montana State couldn’t get anything going offensively. The Bobcats got just three first downs and punted on their final six drives of the first half.
The MSU defense got off to a strong start in the second half, as Josh Hill, playing in his first game of the season after returning from injury, intercepted NDSU quarterback Easton Stick. The Bobcats forced a three-and-out on NDSU’s next possession, which set up Andersen’s biggest highlight of the day.
Facing a 4th-and-1 at the MSU 49-yard line, Andersen bounced off the pile at the line of scrimmage and sprinted past the Bison secondary. The Dillon native ran 51 yards for his 21st rushing touchdown of the season to break MSU’s single-season record. Don Hass previously had the record of 20 rushing touchdowns in the 1966 season. Andersen finished the game with 129 rushing yards and that score on 24 carries. Freshman running back Isaiah Ifanse added 43 yards on 13 carries, as MSU averaged 4.2 yards per carry. The Bobcats, though, couldn’t consistently put themselves in short third-down situations, and they converted only three of 15 third-down attempts.
“Obviously this is a kind of disappointing end here, but we have a lot of good things we can build on from this year,” said Andersen after the loss. “We have a lot of good people coming back, and we’re just excited to get going on the next year.”
The Bison, meanwhile, converted six of their nine third-down attempts and needed only 56 plays to rack up 493 yards of offense. Three players — Dunn, Anderson and Ty Brooks — finished with more than 100 yards rushing, and four players found the end zone as the Bison totaled 407 rushing yards on 44 carries.
Dunn finished with 127 yards and four scores on just 11 carries, Anderson had 118 and one TD on 13 carries, and Brooks needed just six carries to total 103 rushing yards and another score. Adam Cofield got 11 carries for 48 yards and a 1-yard touchdown, the game’s final touchdown.
North Dakota State, the defending FCS national champion and winners of six of the past seven titles, will play eighth-seeded Colgate (10-1) in the quarterfinals next week after the Raiders defeated James Madison 23-20 on Saturday. NDSU defeated JMU 17-13 in last year’s national championship.
Montana State was the Big Sky Conference’s fourth team to qualify for the FCS playoffs and the first to lose. The Bobcats defeated Incarnate Word 35-14 in last week’s first round. Weber State (No. 2), Eastern Washington (No. 3) and UC Davis (No. 6) earned top-eight seeds and first-round byes.