Patrick Reusse
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North Dakota State won the first of its nine Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championships in 2011. It's a run of nine out of 10, if you throw out the abbreviated schedule and spring tournament held in 2021 after COVID-19 took away the 2020 fall season.

The Bison lost in the second round of that faux championship. That was primarily because quarterback Trey Lance did not participate, choosing instead to prepare for the NFL draft, where San Francisco invested heavily to draft him third overall.

The only playoff loss in a genuine FCS tournament was to James Madison in the semifinals in 2016 in Fargo. The Bison are 33-1 in home playoff games since 2011.

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

And that is a clear example of the competitive crisis in which FCS finds itself.

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

Going 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 also have moved to FBS.

Mike McFeely, a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, said this week: "The power teams of the South have left. Some of the non-power teams also have left. The strength of FCS is now this conference [Missouri Valley] and the Big Sky … which is primarily Montana and Montana State.

"When James Madison was here, the fans had anticipation for great games. Now, you're getting Samford, getting William & Mary, and there's little doubt.''

There was none last weekend against these quarterfinal visitors:

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

There was one surprise: Incarnate Word, a former all-women's Catholic school in San Antonio that decided to build a football program, outscored No. 2 Sacramento State 66-63.

So, there might be some intrigue on Friday (6 p.m.) in Fargo, when Incarnate Word brings that offense to face an NDSU team that has a huge number of injuries.

Then again, the Texas track stars are going against NDSU's perennial power on offense and defense. The point spread found online stands at -9.5 for the home team.

Down the road in Brookings, S.D., Montana State will be making the 800-mile trip from Bozeman for a 3 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. This one is outdoors, in the wake of a snowstorm, which is nothing new for the Bobcats.

There's always a Minnesota connection with Montana State, and this season's includes Ty Okada, a defensive back from East Ridge High in Woodbury, and Ravi Alston, a four-year receiver with D-III St. John's and the MIAC's Player of the Year in 2021.

"I had one 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 had a brochure mailed to me from Montana State, and it looked like such a beautiful place, and I wanted to play at the highest level possible.''

Which wasn't an easy sell, since Okada weighed 149 pounds in his senior season. He was able to get a preferred walk-on invite from Montana State, redshirted, muscled up to 180 pounds, and added the COVID-19 exemption for a sixth fall of football.

He's gone from 149 to standout defensive back, tackler and captain with 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 I was under-recruited out of high school,'' he said. "I wanted to keep with a winning program, and try a higher level, and I got the chance here.''

Mostly, it's a been a chance for Alston to work on his blocking skills. The Bobcats run, and then run some more, with Brent Vigen, a former NDSU offensive coordinator when Craig Bohl started the Bison dynasty.

Alston wound up with 25 receptions for 346 yards and one touchdown.

"We have a chance to win the national championship, and that's what counts,'' Alston said.

FCS keeps losing strong programs, and the Mountain West could soon be beckoning NDSU and others as it loses teams to the Pac-12, but, hey, it's the semis and they're still worth a look.