Sep. 10—BROOKINGS, S.D. — It was a touchdown and then it wasn't for No. 3, Montana State, and No. 1 South Dakota State escaped with a 20-16 FCS showdown win Saturday.
The tight contest saw MSU (1-1) go up 10-0 in the first half before the lead changed hands three times in the second — five if you count Sean Chambers' 24-yard strike to Clevan Thomas, Jr., in the back of the end zone as time ran out. For a while it DID count, putting MSU up 22-20.
A Hail Mary pass was knocked down and the defending FCS champion Jackrabbits (2-0) had their 16th straight win.
"Heartbreaking," MSU coach Brent Vigen said. "We anticipated a four-quarter game. We knew we'd have to play our tails off, and I think we did that. Our guys played hard and made plays on both sides of the ball. We just didn't make enough."
Montana State had its chances, but lost starting quarterback Tommy Mellott early in the second half to a leg injury. They had 12 penalties for 80 yards, including some untimely false starts. Until that final desperate drive, the Bobcats' longest play from scrimmage was nine yards.
They still rallied from a 13-10 deficit with two chip-shot Brendan Hall field goals, though before the first the Cats had a false start on third-and-goal at the 1.
The second field goal put MSU in front 16-13 with 2:04 left, but the Jacks answered in two plays. Mark Grownowski hit Graham Goering up top for a40-yard gain, and then found Griffin Wilde for a 35-yard catch-and-run for the touchdown.
"Two big plays," Vigen said. "They beat us in man coverage on a heck of a pass and a heck of a catch. Then we didn't tackle on a screen."
It was 20-16, South Dakota State, with 1:30 left.
Chambers, the Wyoming transfer who generally spells Mellott in the red zone, completed passes of 19 and 13 yards, then scrambled for 13 yards, then found Treyton Pickering for 21 yards down to the Jacks' 19.
One last false start followed, setting up Chambers' throw and Thomas' toe-tapping catch that wasn't a catch.
The teams have met in the FCS semifinals the last two years, each winning decisively on their home field. This one was in doubt until the very end, though the Jacks piled up 250 yards after halftime.
Gronowski was 13 of 22 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also tore off a 20-yard touchdown run on the Jacks' first drive of the second half.
With 14:15 left in the game, he capped a 95-yard drive with a 16-yard scoring pass to Zach Heins. The PAT kick missed, leaving SDSU up 13-10.
Chambers passed for 53 yards and ran for 90 on 20 carries. His 2-yard scoring run at 4:14 of the first quarter, which put MSU up 7-0, came after Gronowski lost the ball on a scramble and the Cats' Nolan Askelson recovered.
Mellot ran 11 times for 46 yards and was 6 of 6 passing for 34. Hall hit his first three field goals as a Bobcat.
"We can't change the outcome," Vigen said. "We've got to move on. We'll get back to work on Monday."