One of the 2021 season finalists, Montana State or North Dakota State, is going to remain unbeaten in its FCS championship game history come Jan. 8.
Of course, NDSU has the more distinguished history, having already captured a record eight FCS titles since 2011 as it once again embarks on a trip to Frisco, Texas. But the Bobcats also won in their only title game appearance in 1984 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Here’s a quick look back at how the two finalists won their previous FCS championships:
1984 Season: Montana State 19, Louisiana Tech 6 (Dec. 15, 1984) – Incredibly, the Bobcats went from finishing 1-10 in coach Dave Arnold’s first season in 1983 to a 12-2 record and the national title in 1984 – a 9.5-game improvement from one season to the next that is the biggest in FCS history. In the title game, Kelly Bradley had 334 passing yards and threw two touchdowns to Joe Bignell, and La Tech didn’t score until the game’s final minute.
North Dakota State
2011 Season: North Dakota State 17, Sam Houston State 6 (Jan. 7, 2012) – The Bison (14-1) limited the FCS’ highest-scoring offense to two field goals and scored both of their touchdowns in the second half. D.J. McNorton scored on a 39-yard screen pass shortly after a fake punt and quarterback Brock Jensen added a 1-yard TD run after linebacker Travis Beck’s 63-yard interception return.
2012 Season: North Dakota State 39, Sam Houston State 13 (Jan. 5, 2013) – The Bison (14-1) outscored the Bearkats 29-3 in the second half to break open a game that was tied 10-10 at halftime. Jensen finished with three rushing touchdowns and the Bison defense picked off four passes, including cornerback Marcus Williams with two interceptions.
2013 Season: North Dakota State 35, Towson 7 (Jan. 4, 2014) – In NDSU coach Craig Bohl’s final game of an 11-year tenure, five different Bison players scored touchdowns, with Jensen both throwing and rushing for one. The Bison (15-0) became the first undefeated FCS champion since Marshall in 1996.
2014 Season: North Dakota State 29, Illinois State 27 (Jan. 10, 2015) – Quarterback Carson Wentz’s 5-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left lifted the Bison (15-1), who had fallen behind 27-23 on Illinois State signal caller Tre Roberson’s 58-yard scoring run at the 1:38 mark. The all-Missouri Valley matchup is the only one in FCS championship game history between two teams from the same conference.
2015 Season: North Dakota State 37, Jacksonville State 10 (Jan. 9, 2016) – After missing eight games with a broken wrist, Wentz returned to rush for two touchdowns and throw for another in capping his career with a second straight most outstanding player award. In winning their fifth straight national title, the Bison (13-2) held Jacksonville State to 202 offensive yards – 327 below its average.
2017 Season: North Dakota State 17, James Madison 13 (Jan. 6, 2018) – In one of the more anticipated championship games, NDSU (14-1) held off a late drive by James Madison to complete a strong defensive effort with only 241 yards allowed, three takeaways in Bison territory and four sacks. The Bison controlled the ball for 37 minutes, 41 seconds behind quarterback Easton Stick, who had a 50-yard TD pass to wide receiver Darrius Shepherd.
2018 Season: North Dakota State 38, Eastern Washington 24 (Jan. 5, 2019) – Chris Klieman tied former Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel for the most FCS titles with four, winning his final game with the Bison (15-0). Stick accounted for 319 yards of total offense and five TDs, throwing a pair to Shepherd (23 and 78 yards), and clinching the game with a 46-yard scoring run with 1:16 left.
2019 Season: North Dakota State 28 James Madison 20 (Jan. 11, 2020) – Trey Lance, fresh off becoming the first freshman to receive the Walter Payton Award as national offensive player of the year, carried the ball 30 times for 166 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown, as NDSU finished 16-0 under first-year coach Matt Entz. Senior captain James Hendricks had a 20-yard scoring run as the holder on a fake field goal in the second quarter and preserved the win with a goal-line interception in the closing seconds.