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FCS playoffs: Christian Watson, Trey Lance put North Dakota State back in title game, top Montana State

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 21, 2019

North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson  scores in the first half of an FCS playoff against Montana State, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Fargo, N.D. (BRUCE CRUMMYY / AP)
North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson scores in the first half of an FCS playoff against Montana State, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, in Fargo, N.D. (BRUCE CRUMMYY / AP)
Associated Press

Christian Watson scored long touchdowns on back-to-back touches early in the second quarter and two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State blitzed Montana State 42-14 in a semifinal on Saturday in Fargo, North Dakota, for its 36th straight victory.

Trey Lance found Watson behind the defense along the left sideline for a 75-yard touchdown one play after the Bobcats tied the game at 7. After a three-and-out by Montana State, Watson went 70 yards on a reverse.

Lance threw for three touchdowns, including a 73-yard hookup with Dimitri Williams, and scored two rushing touchdowns.

The top-seeded Bison (15-0) were in the semifinals for the ninth straight year. They won eight and won the national championship each time. NDSU will play second-seeded James Madison for the national championship in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 11.

Montana State (11-4) lost to NDSU 52-10 in the second round last year.

A week after being held to three field goals in a 9-3 quarterfinal win over Missouri Valley Conference rival Illinois State, the Bison scored on their opening drive, going 73 yards in 12 plays with Lance scoring on an 8-yard keeper. The Bobcats broke through with an eight-play, 8-yard drive with Travis Jonsen covering the final yard on a Wildcat formation play.

That’s when the roof caved in for Montana State, with the Bison successful adding a 2-point conversation after Watson’s second score for a 22-7 lead.

On the last possession of the first half the Bison marched 76 yards on 15 plays, milking the clock for 8 minutes, 20 seconds, before Lance hit Jimmy Kepouros for a 6-yard touchdown.

Montana State scored on a 41-yard pass from Tucker Rovig to Kevin Kassis two plays after recovering a Bison fumble, cutting the deficit to 29-14 but the momentum was short lived. Just two plays later, Lance, a redshirt freshman who has not throw an interception this season, had plenty of time to move around in the pocket before finding Williams alone down the right sideline.

The Bison finished with 541 yards, 318 on the ground. Montana State had 298 yards.

James Madison 30, Weber State 14: Ben DiNucci threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and the Dukes (14-1) routed the Wildcats (11-4) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The Dukes led 24-7 at halftime, added two second-half field goals let their defense take care of the rest.

Weber State saw its playoff run end at Bridgeforth Stadium for the second time in three seasons, but unlike a last-second 31-28 loss in 2017, this one was never in question. James Madison got a field goal and two touchdown on its first three possessions, at one point held a 199-11 advantage in yards gained and gave a modest crowd plenty to cheer on a frigid evening.

DiNucci hit Riley Stapleton for touchdowns of 18 and 34 yards and also scored on a 1-yard run. Ethan Ratke, whose field goal won that 2017 game, added field goals of 32, 37 and 27 yards, giving him a Colonial Athletic Association single-season record of 25. Stapleton had nine catches for 162 yards.

The Wildcats’ scores came on Kevin Smith’s 2-yard catch from Jake Constantine after Weber State fell behind 17-0, and Constantine’s 22-yard throw to Ty MacPherson with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

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