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North Dakota State grinds out win, will host Montana State in FCS semifinals

Posted at 1:47 PM, Dec 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-14 15:47:26-05

FARGO, N.D. — Montana State will get another shot at the champs.

The fifth-seeded Bobcats will travel to the FargoDome next week to face reigning champion and top-seeded North Dakota State in the semifinal round of the FCS playoffs after the Bison ground out a hard-fought 9-3 win over Illinois State in a quarterfinal game Saturday.

NDSU, which has won the past two FCS national titles and seven of the past eight, got all it could handle from Illinois State, which limited the Bison to their lowest point total in a game since 2014. It was NDSU's first home game since 2002 that it failed to score a touchdown, but Griffin Crosa's three field goals proved to be enough thanks to another stellar effort from the Bison defense.

Illinois State gained 160 rushing yards on 40 carries, but the Redbirds attempted only eight passes in the game. Bryce Jefferson completed three of them for 34 yards, but he also threw an interception.

NDSU's offense couldn't get much going against Illinois State's defense, either, but the Bison were able to sustain three second-quarter drives to put points on the board. Quarterback Trey Lance completed passes of 13 and 20 yards on the Bison's first scoring drive and a 55-yarder to Christian Watson on their next possession to set up another field goal. He also had a 19-yard completion on NDSU's third scoring drive.

Lance, who won the Jerry Rice Award as the FCS freshman of the year, completed 10 of 21 passes for 135 yards. The Bison rushing attack ground out 128 yards on 43 carries -- 41 yards coming from Lance and a team-high 49 from Ty Brooks.

On the season, Lance has completed 161 of 235 pass attempts for 2,356 yards and 25 touchdowns. Incredibly, he's thrown zero interceptions on the season.

Defensively, NDSU hasn't allowed more than 22 points in a game this season. The Bison have intercepted 14 passes, recovered six fumbles and recorded 39 sacks. Derrek Tuszka has a team-high 11.5 sacks, and Michael Tutsie leads the team with six interceptions, including one on Saturday.

North Dakota State (14-0) will host Montana State (11-3) in a semifinal game on Dec. 21. The Bobcats defeated Austin Peay 24-10 on Friday to secure their place in the semifinal round for the first time since 1984 when they won the national championship. NDSU has had MSU's number in recent years, though, and eliminated the Bobcats from the 2018 playoffs with a 52-10 win in the second round. The Bison have won 35 consecutive games dating back to a 33-21 loss to South Dakota State on Nov. 4, 2017.

Second-seeded James Madison (13-1) will host No. 3-seed Weber State (11-3) in the other semifinal. The winners of the two semifinal games will meet on Jan. 11 in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national championship.

Both semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPN's family of networks.