Entering today’s FCS semifinal game, No. 1 seed North Dakota State and No. 5 seed Montana State were trending in opposite directions. Some tried to dispute that regarding the Bison, but there’s no denying they were not playing their best offensive ball in the last three games (some of that is due to the defenses they faced and also in part to the Bison lacking in the execution and explosive plays department).
Meanwhile, the Bobcats were rolling with six straight wins and playing a style of football that appeared could push NDSU. Now, not many predicted MSU would go into the Fargodome and get a win. A competitive game was expected by most, though.
But any thought of NDSU being vulnerable was put to rest with the Bison’s 42-14 demolition of the Bobcats. Any thought of the Bison peaking too early in the season was buried. Any idea of NDSU’s youth finally catching up to them was thrown out in the trash.
NDSU showed those that may have forgotten just what kind of machine it is. Myself included.
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It was a statement performance by NDSU. The Bison out-gained MSU 541-298. At halftime, it was 319-102. NDSU beat the Bobcats in every way, whether it was with speed and athleticism (hello, Christian Watson) or with a bullying rushing attack.
So the Bison are heading back to Frisco once again, a spot Brian McLaughlin and I expected them to be going back to the preseason. How NDSU was playing in September and October was way beyond what anyone expected, though. It even took us by surprise as we moved NDSU from No. 2 to No. 1. This team was rolling Top 10 ranked opponents. There was even discussion on if the 2019 Bison were just as good as the 2018 Bison.
NDSU entered today’s game 14-0. But again, the regular-season finale against Southern Illinois, the second-round game against Nicholls and last week’s game against Illinois State — while all wins — weren’t quite the level of play we saw earlier in the season. The Bison looked like the team we maybe expected to see at the start of the year with all of the new names in the starting lineup. The offensive line wasn’t getting as good of a push. There were mental mistakes. Trey Lance was missing some key open throws. Maybe we were getting nit-picky with a team that was and is currently on an FCS-record winning streak (36 in a row), but there did appear to be a chink in the armor. Something wasn't clicking.
The Bison machine was firing on all cylinders today, though.
And here’s the thing: MSU is a dang good football team. Were the Bobcats maybe not as good as we thought heading into this game? Maybe so. Or maybe they just ran into a buzzsaw today. But this is still the same team that dominated a future quarterfinal squad Montana, hammered a top CAA team Albany and took care of Austin Peay after the Govs handled the co-Big Sky champ Sacramento State a week prior.
The Bobcats are a legit FCS team. And the program took another promising step ahead this season. NDSU is just on another level and proved it once again today.
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