While Alabama and Georgia will be the stars of the Football Bowl Subdivision’s national championship on Monday night, the Football Championship Subdivision title game will be played Saturday morning, and it’s got a bit of Nebraska flavor to it.
North Dakota State (13-1) and Montana State (12-2) will square off in in Frisco, Texas, at 11 a.m. today, and the game has a handful of Nebraska connections in it. North Dakota State’s roster has three Nebraskans on it in Marques Sigle, Cole Payton and Tyson Gordon. Montana State has a former Husker on its roster in defensive end David Alston, who transferred out of Lincoln last June.
Alston was part of Nebraska’s 2018 recruiting class. He initially committed to Mike Riley, then kept his pledge when Scott Frost took over the program. Coming out of high school, Alston was the No. 1-rated player in Minnesota. Alston has five tackles and 0.5 sacks this season for Montana State.
Sigle has the most production of the Nebraska connections. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound redshirt freshman corner has played in all 12 of the Bison’s games and has 14 tackles, five pass breakups, one forced fumble and one interception that he returned for 36 yards. Sigle was a three-year starter for head coach Larry Martin at Omaha North and won a Class A state championship in 2017.
High school football fans in Nebraska should be well aware of Payton. The former Gatorade State Player of the Year and three-year starter from Omaha Westside is the third-string quarterback for the Bison as he learns and develops as a true freshman. The 6-3, 221-pounder has completed 1-of-3 passing attempts for 6 yards and rushed seven times for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Payton played under head coach Brett Froendt, who recently announced his retirement, and went 31-5 in his three seasons as starter, which included a Class A state championship in 2020.
The 6-2, 190-pound Gordon, a redshirt freshman, is a backup safety for the Bison who has played in two games and has two tackles. Gordon, a 2020 Omaha Skutt graduate, was a three-year letterwinner and two-year starter who did just about everything for head coach Matt Turman, playing quarterback, receiver and safety. Gordon owns the record for most career interceptions at Skutt with 14. He led his team to a 45-3 overall record and back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019.
North Dakota State is the favorite in the game. The Bison are a powerhouse, winning eight national championships from 2011 to 2019. The Bison even have a history of winning outside of the FCS, like when they traveled to Iowa City and beat No. 13-ranked Iowa 23-21 in 2017. After that game, North Dakota State received 74 votes in the AP Poll and barely missed being a top-25 team. The Bison ranked 27th that week, and the 74 votes are the most ever earned by an FCS program.
In 2013, the Bison traveled to Manhattan, Kansas, to play Kansas State. North Dakota State nearly pulled the upset, but lost 24-21. In 2011, the Bison went to Minnesota and hung tough with the Gophers, losing 37-24. In 2007, North Dakota State fell just 27-21 to Minnesota.
Montana State, on the other hand, hasn’t been in a championship game since 1983. The No. 8-seeded Bobcats nearly beat Wyoming on the road in the season-opener, losing 19-16.
The Bobcats have one of the more interesting stories of the FCS in quarterback Tommy Mellott, who has only been the full-time starter since the playoffs started. The true freshman from Butte, Montana, was thrown into the fire after previous starter Matthew McKay entered the transfer portal in early December—two days before a playoff game against Tennessee-Martin.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Mellott is athletic—he was used as a runner in the Bobcat backfield about midway through the regular season—but still growing as a passer. In the FCS semifinal win over South Dakota State, Mellott went 10-of-15 through the air for 233 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 155 yards and two scores on a whopping 34 carries.