FARGO, N.D. (AP) North Dakota State got what it wanted for its first playoff game of 2015: redemption over rivalry.
The Bison's quest for a fifth straight Football Championship Subdivision title continues at home Saturday against the Montana Grizzlies, who defeated NDSU on the final play of the first game of the season 12 weeks ago. While the Bison were enjoying a bye last week, the Griz eliminated NDSU nemesis South Dakota State in a first-round game.
It was the preferred outcome for NDSU players, Bison cornerback CJ Smith said.
''We've played SDSU enough over my four or five years,'' he said.
It also gives the Bison a chance to atone for the season-opening setback that was featured on ESPN as the first game of the Division I season. Montana rallied to win the game 38-35 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Joey Counts with 2 seconds left.
The revenge factor, Bison defensive lineman Nate Tanquay, has gone mostly unspoken this week.
''I think it's in everybody's head,'' Tanquay said. ''To me it's just embarrassing to lose to the same team twice. They're a really good team, and anything can happen, but for me especially I do not want to lose to these guys.''
Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes said that doesn't mean that NDSU has more on the line this weekend.
''I think we all have the same amount to play for,'' Holmes said. ''We're all trying to get a national championship. I don't really don't see how they're playing for more at this point.''
Both teams are familiar with December football. This is NDSU's sixth straight appearance in the FCS playoffs, where the Bison have an 18-1 record that includes a quarterfinal appearance in 2010. The Bison are 13-0 at home in the postseason since becoming eligible for Division I playoffs in 2008.
Montana holds the FCS record for most overall playoff appearances at 23 and most consecutive playoff appearances with 17, from 1993 to 2009. This is their third straight trip to the FCS tournament.
The Bison (9-2) and Griz (8-4) have weathered their share of setbacks since playing in August. Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks to injuries. The Grizzlies got their standout, Brady Gustafson, back three weeks ago. The Bison are still without NFL prospect Carson Wentz, but redshirt freshman Easton Stick is 5-0 in his absence. Wentz broke the wrist on his throwing hand during a loss to South Dakota on Oct. 17 and isn't likely to return during the playoffs.
Montana coach Bob Stitt said his team, which was in survival mode without Gustafson, has settled back into a groove with him. He has led the Griz to a 57-16 win over Eastern Washington, a 54-35 victory over Montana State and a 24-17 triumph over SDSU.
''The quarterback position, the team takes on his personality. That's defense, that's offense, everything,'' Stitt said. ''And having Brady in there has made all the difference in the world.''
The Bison, too, have taken on the personality of Stick, who hasn't been rattled by his unexpected promotion. He scored a touchdown on his first rushing attempt of the season. He became the first NDSU quarterback since 1996 to go over 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games when he rushed for 124 yards against Indiana State and 130 yards against Southern Illinois.
''I'm kind of a laid-back guy, that's kind of how I play. Try and stay collected at all times. Not too high and not too low,'' Stick said. ''I'm just going to keep doing my routine and just keep playing my game.''
Stick shrugged when asked if payback was a big factor for him.
''I don't know,'' he said. ''However you need to motivate yourself individually ... the cool part about this locker room is that a lot of it is internal motivation, rather than external motivation. Guys just want to win the game.''