Jackrabbits’ season ends at Montana State

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor (He/Him)

South Dakota State’s playoff run came to an end Saturday in the FCS Semifinals with a 31-17 loss to eighth-seeded Montana State at a sold-out Bobcat Stadium.

With the loss, the Jacks finish the season 11-4 and 19-6 in the calendar year dating back to the spring season where they lost in the title game to Sam Houston. They also finish one win short of its second straight national title game appearance in under nine months.

The Bobcats improve to 12-2 on the season and earned their 12th straight home win. They will now head to Frisco, Texas Jan. 8, and will take on the No. 2 seed North Dakota State Bison. This is Montana State’s first appearance in the title game since 1984, where they defeated Louisiana Tech 19-6.

In an evenly contested first half, SDSU’s first drive stalled inside the 10-yard line when Isaiah Davis was stopped on a 4th and 1 play.

The Bobcats took over and grabbed an early 7-0 lead when true freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott hit Nate Stewart for a 64-yard touchdown. The Jacks tied the game when Pierre Strong Jr. scored from 44 yards. After a Montana State field goal, the Jacks took a 14-10 lead.

The Bobcats responded when Mellott scored his first of two rushing touchdowns to give Montana State a three-point lead.

When SDSU’s Cole Frahm hit a 51-yard field goal to end the first half, the teams were tied at 17.

By the start of the second half, both teams looked to grab the momentum. After both teams traded punts on their first couple possessions, Mellott scored his second rushing touchdown to give the Bobcats a 24-17 lead.

By the start of the 4th quarter, the Jacks hoped to answer, but MSU’s Simeon Woodard intercepted an Oladokun pass. With 10:35 remaining, the Bobcats then extended their lead to 31-17 when Mellott hit Lance McCutcheon for a 17-yard score.

The Jackrabbits were now in trouble.

They were unable to score in the second half, and their attempts for a miracle comeback came up short.

The Jackrabbit defense was never able to stop Mellott all day. On top of the 229 yards and two touchdowns he put up through the air, he also carried the ball a whopping 34 times for 155 yards.

Oladokun finished 23-35 for 315 yards and a touchdown. Strong carried the ball 14 times for 94 yards. He finishes his final season as a Jackrabbit with career highs in attempts (240), yards (1,686), and touchdowns (18). Along with tight end Tucker Kraft and linebacker Adam Bock, he was named to the Stats Perform FCS All-America Team.

Last week against Villanova, Strong left the game in the first quarter and was in concussion protocol. Fortunately, nothing came back, and he was fully healthy Saturday.

Kraft had six receptions for 96 yards. Jaxon Janke also had six receptions for 88 yards. Logan Backhaus led the SDSU defense with seven tackles.

For Montana State, McCutcheon had five catches for 98 yards, and Stewart had two receptions for 88 yards. The Bobcat defense posted a second-half shutout and was able to get key stops in critical situations. Troy Anderson had 10 tackles in the game, which led the team.