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AP photo by Michael Ainsworth / North Dakota State fullback Hunter Luepke (44) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Montana State in the FCS title game Saturday in Frisco, Texas.

FRISCO, Texas — North Dakota State University's football program began practice more than a year ago for an unprecedented spring season that ended without a championship. Things felt much more normal for the Bison this time.

Hunter Luepke ran for three touchdowns in the first half, plowing over a defender going into the end zone on the first one, and NDSU won its record-extending ninth Football Championship Subdivision national title — all in the past 11 seasons — with a 38-10 win over Montana State on Saturday.

"Everything went our way," Luepke said. "Everything we drew up happened."

The Bison (14-1), who also got a 76-yard touchdown run from Kobe Johnson, have never lost when making the trip from Fargo to Frisco for the final game of the FCS season. They are 9-0 since the 2011 season at the Major League Soccer stadium north of downtown Dallas.

This championship game came less than eight months after Sam Houston State, after a playoff win over NDSU, beat South Dakota State for the title last May in a 2020 season pushed back to spring because of the pandemic.

The Bobcats (12-3) struggled after losing standout starting quarterback Tommy Mellott to an ankle injury on the game's opening drive.

"It definitely changed us," said first-year Bobcats coach Brent Vigen, a former NDSU player and longtime assistant coach.

Luepke, a 236-pound junior fullback who finished with 82 rushing yards, took a direct snap for a 6-yard score just before halftime that put NDSU up 28-0. He also had an 11-yard touchdown after that powerful 8-yard scoring run on the first Bison drive.

"It's a tone setter," Bison coach Matt Entz said. "I know it's an intangible and you can't measure it, but we want to lead the country in physicality. And when you have a back like that, it sure helps."

Montana State was in its first title game since 1984, when it won the championship then referred to as NCAA Division I-AA. The eighth-seeded Bobcats won each of their first three playoff games by at least two touchdowns after Mellott took over as the starter, including victories over Sam Houston and South Dakota State.

The Bobcats have lost to NDSU in the playoffs each of the past three seasons in which they have participated. Montana State lost in earlier rounds in the 2018 and 2019 seasons before opting out of last year's spring schedule.

NDSU led 35-0 on Saturday before Blake Glessner's 26-yard field goal midway through the third quarter ended the shutout. Lance McCutcheon caught a 28-yard pass from Tucker Rovig with a little more than five minutes in the game for Montana State's lone touchdown.

"They were able to play their brand of football, grabbed the momentum really quick," Vigen said. "And we were never able to get to get it back."

The Bison piled up 380 yards on the ground and 506 total yards, the most allowed by the Bobcats this season. Montana State had given up only 13.4 points and 107.9 rushing yards per game.

Mellott accounted for 11 touchdowns in the first three playoff games, but got hurt when his right foot twisted awkwardly when he was tackled on a 2-yard run to convert on third-and-1. He remained on the field the final three plays of that series, but he was clearly in pain while hopping on his left foot after throwing a pass. He never returned despite extended efforts with trainers to get back in the game.

Rovig completed 13 of 28 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran eight times for 51 yards after replacing Mellott.

The Bison effectively used two quarterbacks. Starter Cam Miller was 9-of-13 for 126 yards with a 35-yard touchdown to tight end Josh Babicz, and Quincy Patterson ran 11 times for 98 yards.

Entz is the third NDSU coach with multiple championships in their title run. His head coaching debut was in 2019 with a 16-0 record. Craig Bohl led the Bison to three titles from 2011-13 before Chris Klieman won four championships in five seasons.

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