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Montana State ends South Dakota State's season in the FCS semifinals

South Dakota State held scoreless in the second half, sees season end at 11-4

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South Dakota State's Isaiah Davis carries the ball as Montana State's Troy Anderson makes a tackle during the FCS semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
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BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The road postseason run ran out of gas for South Dakota State football Saturday.

SDSU was held to minus-2 rushing yards in the second half and Montana State broke open a 17-all halftime tie with a pair of touchdowns in a 31-17 win Saturday in the FCS semifinals.

Seeking a third straight road playoff win and a second consecutive national championship game appearance, SDSU’s season ends at 11-4. Montana State (12-2) will play North Dakota State in the FCS championship game on Jan. 8, 2022 in Frisco, Texas in the Bobcats’ first championship game appearance since 1984 and denying an all-Missouri Valley Football Conference championship contest.

After SDSU’s first two drives of the second half went nowhere, Montana State took the lead behind the legs of freshman quarterback phenom Tommy Mellott, who rushed 34 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Mellott’s second rushing touchdown of the day put the Bobcats ahead 24-17 on the final play of the third quarter. Moments later, after SDSU quarterback Chris Oladokun threw an interception at midfield, Montana State scored again, with Mellott hitting Lance McCutcheon from 17 yards out for a touchdown pass, putting the game out of reach for the Jackrabbits.

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South Dakota State's Tucker Kraft carries the ball upfield during an FCS semifinal game on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

SDSU had a pair of drives that moved the ball into Montana State territory in the fourth quarter but both ended on downs, with the last coming with 3:20 remaining, setting off a celebration among most of the 20,457 fans on hand in Bobcat blue.

Montana State coach Brent Vigen said the ability to make SDSU one-dimensional in the second half, and force the Jackrabbits to pass the ball made a huge difference in the second half.

“We knew we were playing a really good program that in many ways was a mirror of ourselves. we knew we would have to outplay them, outrush them, (win the) turnover margin. And we did that,” Vigen said.

Mellott finished with 229 yards passing on 9 of 14 attempts and two touchdowns. The Bobcats put nearly their entire running game in Mellott’s hands without having Isaiah Ifanse, who was the nation’s No. 3 rusher in yards per game entering the day but missed the game with an injury.

“We couldn’t stop it,” SDSU coach John Stieglemeier said of the Mellott running game.

SDSU players did not mince words in the aftermath of the FCS semifinal contest, which was SDSU’s fourth appearance in the semifinals in the last five years. But SDSU now has a 1-3 record in that round, with all three losses coming on the road by an average margin of 42-18 in those defeats.

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“Our expectation was to get back to Frisco and win that thing,” SDSU linebacker Logan Backhaus said. “If that’s your goal, we fell short and I don’t call it a success. We battled and we fell short.”

PHOTOS: South Dakota State plays in the FCS semifinals at Montana State Montana State takes down South Dakota State 31-17 in the FCS semifinal
The second half was played in stark contrast to the first 30 minutes, where the game was tied at 17, with each team moving the ball with effectiveness. There were a combined 518 yards of total offense, with Montana State racking up 262. SDSU rushed for seven yards per carry in the first half, but could not get anything moving in the third and fourth quarters.

SDSU center Wes Genant said the difference in the running game between the two halves was in Montana State doing a better job of executing the small details and stopping SDSU’s run plays. The Jacks’

Pierre Strong Jr. had an effective day on the ground, rushing for 94 yards on 14 carries and a 44-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to even the game at 7. Isaiah Davis never really got going for the Jacks, finishing with 13 yards on nine carries. Chris Oladokun finished 23 for 35 passing for 315 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.

Tucker Kraft was SDSU’s leading receiver with 96 yards on six catches. Jaxon Janke had six catches for 88 yards and Jadon Janke finished with 80 yards on five catches, including one to put SDSU ahead 14-10 midway through the second quarter.

A Mellott touchdown run quickly answered the Janke score in the second quarter, and SDSU got a 51-yard field goal from Cole Frahm as the first half was ending to tie the game at 17 at intermission.

SDSU finished with a 439-405 advantage in total yards and were 7-for-15 on third downs but were 1-for-4 on fourth downs. SDSU committed two turnovers in the game, including one on a lateral play on the final drive that set off Montana State’s celebration.

The loss caps a long 2021 for the Jackrabbits, who were 8-2 and made the FCS championship game in May, losing to Sam Houston. After playing 25 games over an 11-month span, SDSU’s 2021 record finishes at 19-6.

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“This has to hurt. But that’s OK,” Stiegelmeier said. “I can’t tell you one time where anyone said this was a grind. They wanted to get back to Frisco. They dedicated themselves to get to Frisco.”

NOTES: Saturday’s game was likely the last for SDSU offensive coordinator Jason Eck in his role. The Lewiston Tribune and The Athletic reported Eck will be taking the head coaching job at Idaho, which plays FCS football in the Big Sky Conference.

Scoring summary

First quarter

MSU: Nate Stewart 64 pass from Tommy Mellott (Blake Glessner kick), 3:28.

SDSU: Pierre Strong Jr. 44 run (Frahm kick), 1:21.

Second quarter

MSU: Glessner 27 field field, 9:59.

SDSU: Jadon Janke 13 pass from Chris Oladokun (Frahm kick), 6:55.

MSU: Mellott 4 run (Glessner kick), 4:22.

SDSU: Frahm 51 field goal, 0:00.

Third quarter

MSU: Mellott 3 run, (Glessner kick), 0:00.

Fourth quarter

MSU: Lance McCutcheon 17 pass from Mellott (Glessner kick), 10:35.

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South Dakota State's Jadon Janke turns upfield for a touchdown during the FCS semifinals Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Montana. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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