Montana

Can an entire football division survive on the backs of the Dakotas and Montana?

The state of North Dakota won the first of its nine Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championships in 2011. It’s a nine-out-of-ten series if you throw away the truncated schedule and spring tournament that took place in 2021 after COVID-19 took away the fall 2020 season.

The Bison lost in the second round of this faux championship. That was largely because quarterback Trey Lance didn’t participate, opting instead to prepare for the NFL draft, where San Francisco invested heavily to draft him third overall.

The only playoff loss in a real FCS tournament came from James Madison in the 2016 semifinals in Fargo. The Bison have been 33-1 in home playoff games since 2011.

They’re also 9-for-9 in championship games, all in Frisco, Texas. The first two came against Sam Houston State, two more against James Madison, and another against Jacksonville (Ala.) State.

And that’s a clear example of the competitive crisis FCS is in.

All three of these southern schools have moved to the upper level of Division I, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

Coming back to NDSU’s first title, prominent programs such as Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Liberty, Old Dominion, South Alabama and Texas-San Antonio have also moved to FBS.

Mike McFeely, a Forum of Fargo-Moorhead columnist, said this week, “The South’s power teams are gone. Some of the non-power teams have also gone. The strength of FCS now is this conference [Missouri Valley] and the Big Sky…that’s mostly Montana and the state of Montana.

“When James Madison was here, the fans were looking forward to great games. Now you get Samford, William & Mary and there is little doubt.”

There were none against these quarter-final visitors last weekend:

No. 1 seeds South Dakota State 42, Holy Cross 21. No. 3 seeds North Dakota State 27, Samford 9. No. 4 seeds Montana State 55, William & Mary 7.

There was a surprise: Incarnate Word, a former San Antonio all-women’s Catholic school that decided to build a soccer program, surpassed the No. 2 in Sacramento state 66-63.

So there could be some intrigue on Friday (5:00 p.m.) in Fargo when Incarnate Word takes that offense against an NDSU team with a large injury count.

On the other hand, against the enduring power of NDSU, the Texas track and field stars are taking offense and defense. The points range found online is -9.5 for the home team.

Down the road in Brookings, SD, the state of Montana will make the 800-mile journey from Bozeman for a 3 p.m. opener on Saturday. This one is outdoors after a snowstorm, which is nothing new to the Bobcats.

There’s always a connection between Minnesota and Montana State, and this season includes Ty Okada, a defenseman at East Ridge High in Woodbury, and Ravi Alston, a four-year receiver at D-III St. John’s and MIAC’s Player of the Year in 2001.

“I had a D-II offer from Southwest [Minnesota] state, but if I stayed in Minnesota, it was St. Thomas or Bethel,” Okada said this week. “Then I got a brochure in the mail from Montana State and it looked like such a beautiful place and I wanted to play at the highest level possible.”

Which wasn’t easy to sell given that Okada weighed 149 pounds during his senior season. He was able to get a preferential walk-on invitation from the state of Montana, red-shirted, muscular up to 180 pounds, and added the COVID-19 exemption for a sixth football crash.

He’s gone from 149 to being a standout defender, tackler, and captain for the Bobcats.

Alston came to St. John’s from California. He had career totals of 153 receptions, 2,350 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“I loved my four years at St. John’s, but I also felt like I was underrecruited from high school,” he told Chance here.

Mostly it was an opportunity for Alston to work on his defensive skills. The Bobcats are running and running even more with Brent Vigen, a former NDSU offensive coordinator when Craig Bohl founded the Bison Dynasty.

Alston finished with 25 receptions for 346 yards and a touchdown.

“We have a chance to win the national championship and that counts,” said Alston.

FCS continues to lose strong programs, and the Mountain West could soon be waving NDSU and others as it loses teams to the Pac-12, but hey, it’s the semifinals and they’re still worth a look.

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