North Dakota State is here once again.
For the ninth straight year, the Bison are in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs. They have won the national championship eight of those times, including in each of the previous two seasons. So it's not surprising that North Dakota State, which was seeded No. 1 for the postseason, is back in this game.
This time, the Bison will face No. 5-seeded Montana State, which is making its first appearance in the FCS playoff semifinals since 1984. That was the only previous time the Bobcats had advanced this deep into the playoffs, and they won the national championship that season.
FCS Semifinal 1 Information
Date: Saturday, Dec. 21
Matchup: No. 5 Montana State (11-3) at No. 1 North Dakota State (14-0)
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Montana State hadn't made it past the quarterfinals in any of its previous eight FCS playoff appearances. In order for the Bobcats to keep this run going, they will have to avenge their season-ending loss from last term.
In the 2018 playoffs, North Dakota State defeated Montana State 52-10 in the second round. The Bison went on to win the national title by defeating Colgate, South Dakota State and Eastern Washington in the final three rounds.
Montana State is facing a tough task. North Dakota State has won 35 consecutive games, with its most recent loss coming against South Dakota State on Nov. 4, 2017. The Bison have been an FCS powerhouse, and that hasn't changed this year.
During the regular season, North Dakota State won 10 of its 12 games by at least 14 points. None of its games were decided by fewer than seven. After a first-round bye, the Bison opened the playoffs with a 37-13 win over Nicholls State and a 9-3 victory against Illinois State.
North Dakota State won its previous game without scoring a touchdown, as Griffin Crosa's trio of second-quarter field goals was enough for the Bisons' defense to power them to victory.
But scoring more points will be a focus for North Dakota State moving forward.
"Offensively, we need to execute better," Bison head coach Matt Entz said, according to Jeff Kolpack of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. "Regardless of what Illinois State showed us, if you can't execute, it's hard to make adjustments in the game. We have to be better prepared."
Montana State started the season 5-3, with a season-opening loss to Texas Tech and back-to-back losses to Sacramento State and North Dakota in October. Then the Bobcats closed the regular season with four straight wins. After a first-round bye, they beat Albany 47-21 in the second round of the playoffs before their 24-10 win over Austin Peay in the quarterfinals.
Because Montana State's season ended with a loss at North Dakota State last year, it knows what to expect heading back to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome this time.
"We've been in there when it's loud and rowdy," Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate said, according to Colton Pool of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "And that helps. I don't think it's one of those things where we have to be intimidated by the environment. We've been there. We've seen it. We didn't compete very well, but I think it definitely helps to have seen it and been in that environment."
If Montana State can pull off the upset, it would easily be the biggest win of the FCS season. And it would have a lot of momentum going into the final, where it would face either Weber State or James Madison, the other teams playing a semifinal matchup Saturday.