BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Montana State freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott accounted for four touchdowns to send the Bobcats to their first title game in 38 years with a 31-17 win over South Dakota State in a Football Championship Series semifinal game on Saturday.
Montana State (12-2) will make its first national championship appearance since 1984, facing North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 8. The Bison beat James Madison 20-14 on Friday night.
Mellott was 10-of-15 passing for 233 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He added 155 yards on the ground and two touchdowns on 34 carries.
“He's a great player, runs the ball hard,” South Dakota State linebacker Logan Backhaus said. “He makes the right reads and doesn't make mistakes.”
The Bobcats scored first when Mellott hit Nate Stewart for a 64-yard score, but South Dakota State (11-4) bounced back to take a 14-10 lead when Pierre Strong Jr. rambled 44 yards for a touchdown and Chris Oladokun connected with Jadon Janke from the 13 for the lead.
Mellott ran for a 4-yard touchdown before SDSU's Cole Frahm kicked a 51-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 going into halftime.
Mellott became the Bobcats main ball carrier when Isaiah Ifanse was ruled out due to injury.
“We knew that our best running back was out,” Mellott said. “It was just being detailed and that's what got us through it.”
MSU’s defense was riddled by Oladokun throughout the first half, but they held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the second. Mellott scored on a 3-yard plunge in the third quarter and found Lance McCutcheon from the 17 to cap the scoring with just over ten minutes to play.
Freshman Simeon Woodard intercepted Oladokun in the fourth quarter and MSU stopped the Jackrabbits twice on fourth down to finish the game.
“They made more plays than we did,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said." They deserve to win that football game, so congrats to them.
Oladokun was 23-of-35 passing for 315 yards with a touchdown pass and interception. Strong finished with 94 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Mellott, nicknamed “Touchdown Tommy”, was named the starting quarterback after the final regular season game. He has accounted for 11 touchdowns in MSU’s three playoff games.
“That's a tough kid right there,” Bobcats defensive end Daniel Hardy said. “Stepping up when his number was called and getting the job done. Not just getting the job done. Tommy's been balling.”
Montana State also played their first semifinal game at home since 1984, the same year the Bobcats went on to beat Louisiana Tech 19-6 in the championship game.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25