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Stan Becton | | December 22, 2021

Everything you need to know about the 2021 FCS championship semifinals

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The 2021 FCS championship semifinals are approaching and four teams remain in the fight to lift this year's trophy. From the 24-team FCS playoff field, South Dakota State, No. 8 Montana State, No. 3 James Madison and No. 2 North Dakota State still have a chance at the title.

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Here is everything you need to know about our national semifinals: 

No. 3 James Madison at No. 2 North Dakota State | Friday, Dec. 17 | 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Two FCS powerhouses meet in the first semifinal as James Madison heads to Fargo to battle North Dakota State. The schools have met four times since 2011, all coming in the playoffs. In 2017 and 2019, the two met in the FCS national title game, with North Dakota State winning. The lone semifinal meeting between the programs came in 2016 in James Madison's championship-winning season.

This year, James Madison will hope for a repeat of history in the semifinals. Quarterback Cole Johnson has been on a tear all playoffs, throwing for eight touchdowns in two games. On defense, the Dukes have forced seven turnovers, highlighted by linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey's pick-six in the second round.

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On the other side, North Dakota State is looking to add another championship to its dynasty. The Bison are powered by a potent rushing attack that averages 333.5 rushing yards per game and 4.5 rushing touchdowns. North Dakota State plays an old-school style relying on its run game and an elite defense to carry the load. However, if All-American wide receiver Christian Watson makes his 2021 playoff debut, the Bison might find success through the air in the semifinals.

Here's more on how James Madison and North Dakota State stack up:

James Madison 2021 STATS North Dakota STATE
40.15 Points per game 34.85
15.08 Points allowed 11.0
446.2 Yards per game 433.0
281.38 Pass yards per game 151.69
164.8 Rush yards per game 281.3
274.5 Yards allowed per game 256.2
188.31 Pass yards allowed per game 174.46
86.2 Rush yards allowed per game 81.8

South Dakota State at No. 8 Montana State | Saturday, Dec. 18 | 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2

South Dakota State is just the fifth unseeded team to make the FCS semifinals. The Jackrabbits will face a surging Montana State team that's fresh off of an upset of No. 1 Sam Houston. Montana State now becomes the rare eighth seed to host a semifinal game, while South Dakota State must continue its cross-country tour.

While South Dakota State is unseeded these playoffs, it's not your typical unseeded team. The Jackrabbits were the 2020 FCS championship runner-up after all. In the latest go-around in the playoffs, South Dakota State has relied on its talented running back tandem of Pierre Strong Jr. and Isaiah Davis. While Strong's status for the semifinal game remains up in the air thanks to concussion protocol, Davis is more than capable of carrying the load after scoring three touchdowns in the quarterfinals.

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Yet if anyone can stop the South Dakota State rushing attack, it's Montana State linebacker, Troy Andersen. The Buck Buchanan Award finalist is one of the best in the nation, almost always found near the football, making 16 tackles during this playoff run. 

The stout Montana State defense has made the transition at quarterback easier for freshman Tommy Mellott. After being thrust into the playoff fire, Mellott has been great during the Montana State playoff run, highlighted by his five touchdowns in the quarterfinals. When the Bobcats took down then-unbeaten Sam Houston, Mellot scored two passing, two rushing and one receiving touchdown. With another performance like that from Mellot, the Bobcats could advance to their first national championship game since 1984.

Here's more on how South Dakota State and Montana State stack up:

South Dakota State 2021 STATS Montana  STATE
37.5 Points per game 29.92
18.93 Points allowed 13.15
441.4 Yards per game 406.7
222.79 Pass yards per game 177.38
218.6 Rush yards per game 229.3
346.7 Yards allowed per game 285.2
241.57 Pass yards allowed per game 178.23
105.1 Rush yards allowed per game 106.9

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