BROOKINGS, S.D. — Montana State’s path back to the national championship game hit a major roadblock in a 39-18 FCS semifinal playoff loss at South Dakota State on a frigid Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.
SDSU stifled the Bobcats’ running game and scored touchdowns on its first five possessions to end Montana State’s season and advance to the title game on Jan. 8 against Missouri Valley Football Conference rival and nine-time FCS champion North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas.
The Bobcats pulled within 7-6 on a 1-yard touchdown run by QB Sean Chambers in the first quarter, but Chambers suffered a lower leg injury and did not return. The point-after attempt was botched and the Cats trailed throughout.
The Jackrabbits took control with a barrage of touchdowns: a 1-yard run from quarterback Mark Gronowski, a 41-yard run by Isaiah Davis, a 38-yard run by Amar Johnson and a 5-yard pass from Gronowski to Johnson.
Montana State’s top-ranked rushing attack was limited to 52 yards on 34 carries, an average of 1.5 per rush. SDSU outgained the Bobcats in total offense 473 to 281.
No. 1-seeded South Dakota State improved to 13-1 with the win. The fourth-seeded Bobcats finished their season with a 12-2 mark.
Turning point: SDSU’s Isaiah Davis, on his 41-yard touchdown run with 8:47 left in the second quarter, let go of the football as he crossed the plane of the goal line and it rolled out of the back of the end zone. The officials reviewed the play and deemed that Davis had broke the plane before dropping the ball and upheld the TD.
Video evidence did not provide a definitive angle, but had that call gone the other way, MSU would have gotten the ball back down 14-6 instead of 21-6. The Jackrabbits maintained control.
Stat of the game: The Bobcats came in averaging 331.8 rushing yards per game, tops in the FCS. Incredibly, they were limited to 52 yards on the ground against the Jackrabbits, who came in with the No. 1 rush defense in the country (85.4 ypg). MSU’s rushing total was 280 yards under its per-game average.
Bobcat game balls: QB Tommy Mellott (offense). Forced to pass much more than usual, Mellott threw for 174 yards while enduring hit after hit. Mellott scored on a 10-yard run in the fourth quarter to pull MSU within 39-18. Mellott was injured on that play, though, and didn’t return.
PK Blake Glessner (special teams). The reliable Glessner made field goals of 36 and 37 yards. Glessner finished the season making 15 of his last 16 field goal tries.
What’s next: The Bobcats will head back to Bozeman to begin the offseason. MSU won a share of the Big Sky Conference title in 2022 and has won 25 games in two seasons under coach Brent Vigen. The Cats will have their eyes on another league title and deep playoff run in 2023.