FARGO, N.D. — The Montana Grizzlies were alive and well and threatening to bump North Dakota State out of the FCS playoffs. But a series of long touchdown runs served as a second-half revival for the Bison and the Griz could never recover.
Third-seeded NDSU beat Montana 49-26 in a second-round game Saturday at the Fargodome to advance to the quarterfinals for the 12th consecutive year. Montana saw its season come to an end with an 8-5 record. The Bison, the defending national champ and winners of nine of the past 11 FCS titles, improved to 10-2.
"I love this team. This is my favorite team that I've ever coached," UM coach Bobby Hauck said during a postgame press conference. "These guys are special. The work that they put in, their willingness to lay it all on the line for Montana, they are special.
"I flat told them after the game that the only regret I have on this season is I don't get to coach you guys another game."
The Grizzlies found themselves in great position early in the third quarter when cornerback Corbin Walker intercepted a pass from NDSU quarterback Cam Miller and returned it 58 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. That play pulled Montana within 21-20, and gave Montana visions of an upset.
But that's when the Bison got serious. On NDSU's next offensive play, running back Kobe Johnson found a hole in the middle of the line and burst ahead for a 75-yard touchdown run. After that, TaMerik Williams broke free for a 68-yard TD scamper that put the Bison up 35-20.
Early in the fourth quarter Johnson exploded again, this time for a 73-yard touchdown rush that made the score 42-20 and ended the Grizzlies' hopes.
NDSU rushed for 453 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 10.8 yards per carry.
Montana lost starting quarterback Lucas Johnson near the end of the first half when he was sacked by Kody Huisman and appeared to aggravate a lingering knee injury. If that weren't enough, Johnson lost the ball, which rolled into the end zone and was recovered by NDSU's Cole Wisniewski for a touchdown and a 21-10 Bison advantage.
Still, after Walker's defensive touchdown, the Grizzlies were very much in the mix. It simply came down to NDSU's ability to run the ball for huge gains — and touchdowns — that ended Montana's hopes.
Montana QB Daniel Britt entered the game in place of the injured Johnson and threw for 108 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Kris Brown also completed a pass for the Griz.
With Nick Ostmo out due to injury, Isiah Childs led Montana's ground game with 99 yards on 17 carries.
As Montana's season came to a close, North Dakota State advanced to host sixth-seeded Samford (11-1) in the quarterfinals next week at the Fargodome.
"When we got it to 21-20 I felt good. Really good," Hauck said. "Then we gave up the two big runs and let it get back to a 15-point game. We fought out of that hole early but then we put ourselves right back into it.
"Tough not having the quarterback in the second and all that stuff is hard. Our guys played hard throughout, they just made more plays than we did. They are a good football team, especially at home. We know what we need to do to play these guys and beat them and hopefully we get the chance next year."