Luepke Scores Three First-Half TDs and MOP Honors
Frisco, TX – No matter how confident I am as a Bison football fan, I’m always just a bit nervous before the kick-off of another championship game. So, when Bison kicker Jake Reinholz slipped on the opening kick-off causing the ball to go out of bounds and give Montana State’s potent offense the ball at the 35-yard line, the thought had occurred to me that this was not the best of starts. The Bobcat’s first play from scrimmage moved them into Bison territory courtesy of quarterback Tommy Mellott’s 18-yard strike to receiver Wes McCutcheon. Three Mellott rushes later, the Bobcats had another first down and were almost in field goal range. However, the North Dakota State defense, ranked third in FCS in total defense, stiffened and forced the Bobcats into the field goal attempt. MSU ran a fake which the Bison were ready for, and Bobcat kicker Blake Glessner was forced to quickly punt. When the punt ended up in the end zone, ‘Code Green’ had stopped the Bobcats and the Bison had dodged an early bullet.
North Dakota State’s offense would take the momentum from that defensive stop and score the next 35 points on their way to a 38 – 10 victory over Montana State in the championship game of the Football Championship Subdivision at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. The championship concluded a season in which the Bison reclaimed their place on top of and class of the division, finished another one-loss season at 14 – 1, won their ninth national championship in the last 11 years, and had Bison fans and followers alike wondering about the possibility of another string of championships. The Bison scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the game and 4 of 5 first-half drives, not including the kneel down to end the first half. A touchdown drive to open the second half for the Bison effectively ended the game at 35 – 0.
Junior running back Hunter Luepke, from Spencer, WI., was named the most outstanding player after scoring three of the four first-half touchdowns. Luepke and the rest of the backfield corps were led by an offensive line that pushed the Bobcat defense around for 380 yards on the ground. Luepke had touchdown runs of 8, 11, and 6 yards. NDSU’s 3rd touchdown, a 76-yard scamper around left end by Kobe Johnson, put the Bison up 21 – 0 early in the second quarter. Johnson, the junior back from Lawrenceville, GA., finished the day leading all rushers with 106 yards. Luepke’s 6-yard touchdown run, which ended a masterful 14-play, 85-yard drive that chewed up 4:54 of clock time, was a combination of both great play-calling and execution, players knowing to get out of bounds, and judicious use of and availability of time-outs. The Bison were able to get that fourth touchdown yet leave the Bobcats with only 32 seconds to respond. Trying to muster something before the half ended, the Bobcats were forced by ‘Code Green’ into a quick three and out and a punt. The Bison took a knee to run off the final 06 seconds of the half and under the roar of approval by their faithful fans, the Bison made their way into the locker room. Meanwhile, the stunned Bobcats headed to their locker room to figure out how to stop a Bison rushing attack that gained 268 yards in only one half of play.
After receiving the gift of an out-of-bounds kick-off from Montana State kicker Blake Glessner, the Bison began the second half at their 35-yard line and took only 2:26 to march the remaining 65 yards to the end zone and crushed a Bobcat defense that was hoping for a much better second-half performance. The five-play drive ended when Bison quarterback Cam Miller joined the scoring fun and hit tight end, Josh Babicz, on a 35-yard strike. Jake Reinholz added his fifth extra point of the day to make the score 35 – 0. Montana State’s offense, though, was not done. Tucker Rovig, who replaced the injured Tommy Mellott early in the game, captained a 12 play 67-yard drive that resulted in a 26-yard Glessner field goal to put the Bobcats on the scoreboard. After trading punts, the Bison put their final scoring drive together near the end of the 3rd quarter when Reinholz kicked a 37-yarder to finish the Bison scoring and make it 38 – 3. After the Bobcats turned the ball over on downs and a three and out by the Bison, Rovig, the 6′ 5″ junior from Idaho, drove the Bobcats down the field with a 12 play 80-yard drive culminating with a 28-yard touchdown throw into the arms of Bobcat receiver Lance McCutcheon. A Glessner extra point made it 38 – 10 to finish the scoring.
North Dakota State was never seriously threatened in this game. “It was going to be hard to beat the Bison today, especially when you have guys like Cordell Volson, Jackson Hankey, Hunter Luepke; Cam Miller continues to get better. I thought our kids came out with great energy. We challenged them to start fast, cut it loose, and I think you saw that early in the game when we were able to have some success early” said NDSU Head Coach Matt Entz in the post-game press conference. Montana State Head Coach Brent Vigen agreed. “Well, first off, I want to congratulate North Dakota State. They were the better team for sure today. We were able to play their brand of football, they grabbed the momentum really quick, and we were never able to get it back.” When asked about the rushing attack, Vigen admitted “well, it proved to be really challenging today. By no means did we make them one-dimensional, and by no means did we put a lot of pressure on their quarterback to make plays. But yeah, the ball got rolling, and it was really hard for us to stop it today.”
Throughout the playoffs, the status of Christian Watson had been discussed. While most assumed he would play in Frisco, the Bison coaching staff understandably remained mum on the subject. While the 6’5” senior receiver from Tampa, FL, did play, one would have to consider his numbers rather ordinary (4 – 4 – 61 – 0). More importantly, he had two critical catches that saved NDSU drives. In addition, three of Watson’s four catches resulted in first downs. Here are two important catches:
- Catch #1 – Watson was on the receiving end of a 20-yard pass from Miller on the first drive of the game for NDSU. It was 3rd and 14 for the Herd at their own 16-yard line. Eight plays later the Bison were up 7 – 0. Big catch…the drive stays alive after the first two offensive plays of the game result in an incompleted pass and a run that results in negative yardage. It was also the first of many plays that damaged the Bobcat defense’s confidence.
- Catch #2 – In the 4th quarter, Miller and Watson connected on a 15-yard pass to the NDSU 38. While the game was well in hand at this point and the drive ended in a punt, the resulting first down on this 3rd and 9 play allowed the Herd to run the ball four more times thus keeping the clock running to burn a total of 4:16 off the clock on the drive. It kept the Bobcats deeper in their end as well. Again, the game was well in hand, but the constant converting of 3rd and longs demoralized one of the best defenses in FCS.
Quincy Patterson –
It must be noted that Quincy Patterson contributed immeasurably to the Bison’s success on offense. Once he had lost the starting quarterback job, it would have been easy to get frustrated, enter the transfer portal (ask the Montana State staff about players leaving during the season), or worse, become a “cancer” in the locker room. Instead, the Virginia Tech transfer from Chicago put the team first and made some critically important plays for the Bison in Frisco. Patterson, with 98 yards on 11 carries, was a ‘silent’ MOP.
- Like Watson, Patterson also contributed to the opening drive with a 34-yard scamper on a 3rd and 5 for the Bison. The run went to the Bobcat 8-yard line giving the Bison 1st and goal. Luepke would score on the next play putting the Bison up 7 – 0.
- On the final drive of the first half, Patterson had four rushes for 49 yards. While his 9-yard rush was nullified by a facemask penalty (on Patterson), his tough 7-yard run two plays later moved the chains and continued the drive for the Herd.
- Later, in that same drive, Patterson’s back-to-back runs of 10 and 20 yards carried the Bison into Bobcat territory and had MSU’s defense on their heels.
Montana State University Football –
Some kudos to the Bobcats. While they lost the game 38 – 10, Montana State did put up 358 yards of total offense. Only 80 of those yards came on their lone touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats did have the Bison defense on their heels at a few points during the game. They did not quit, especially after losing their starting quarterback on their first offensive drive. As Vigen said in his post-game presser, “You just keep fighting. You make it about one play. You make it about one series. Our guys kept going after it. We just didn’t have enough today.” Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they were also a poor 5 of 15 on third-down conversions (the Bison were 8 of 13). They also missed a field goal. Yet the real demoralizer was NDSU’s Dawson Weber’s interception on MSU’s first play following an NDSU drive capped off with the 76-yard touchdown run by Johnson. While MSU’s defense eventually forced a Bison punt, there were some frustrated offensive players on the Bobcat sideline.
Tommy Mellott –
True freshman “Touchdown” Tommy Mellott came into the championship game as a cult figure for the Montana State faithful. The battle between Mellott and ‘Code Green’ was one of the more anticipated match-ups in this game. Unfortunately, Mellott left the game after the Bobcat’s seventh play from scrimmage with an ankle injury and never returned. However, Mellott was two of three passing for 23 yards and ran the ball 3 times for 11 yards…not bad for the six plays Mellott was directly involved in. The bad news for the Bobcats was Mellott does not play defense.
North Dakota State University’s “Rams” –
Let’s face it. The Bobcat defense was mauled by the Bison offensive line. Montana State had its share of stops, but the Bison offense (more specifically their running attack) had their way on Saturday. The ‘Rams’ were largely responsible for the 380 yards gained on the ground and Cam Miller’s protection. They have been a prolific unit all year and while transition is a part of college athletics, this unit of Cordell Volson, Jalen Sundell, Cody Mauch, Jake Kubas, and Nash Jensen (and others throughout the season) will be missed. Coach Entz said in a post-game presser, “I think we’re probably one of the few teams in the country that celebrates O-linemen. O-linemen are cult heroes in Fargo, North Dakota. Cordell, everyone knows who 67 is. We celebrate those guys. We lean on those guys. I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll keep saying it: This program is built on our O-line and good defense, and if we can do those two things, we have an opportunity to win every game.”