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Live coverage: Eighth-seeded Montana State hosts UT Martin in second round of FCS playoffs

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Montana State's Tommy Mellott

Montana State quarterback Tommy Mellott warms up before Saturday's FCS playoff game against UT Martin at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman. 

Live coverage as the Montana State Bobcats host UT Martin in the second round of the FCS playoffs Dec. 4, 2021 at Bobcat Stadium.

PREGAME: Montana State's third straight FCS playoff appearance will begin against a first-time opponent, also for the third straight season.

No. 7-ranked and eighth-seeded MSU (9-2) will take on No. 16-ranked UT Martin (10-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Bozeman. The Bobcats lost at rival Montana 29-10 on Nov. 20 and had a bye last week. The Skyhawks are coming off a 32-31 first-round win at Missouri State. 

The Bobcats take the field after one of the wilder weeks in program history. Quarterback Matthew McKay, who started all 11 regular season games, announced Thursday that he has entered the transfer portal. MSU head coach Brent Vigen said before Saturday's game that Tommy Mellott will start against UTM.

“Coming out of the Montana game, we made a decision to move to Tommy," Vigen told MSU play-by-play broadcaster Zach Mackey. "Tommy has continued to improve kind of behind the scenes in practice from a throwing perspective. I know he’s made a splash from a running perspective really throughout the season."

Mellott, a freshman from Butte, has completed 2 of 4 passes for 12 yards this season, and he’s rushed 36 times for 294 yards (8.2 ypc) and four touchdowns. McKay was still listed as the starter on this week's depth chart, with Tucker Rovig as the backup.

"Obviously this week, Matt chose to leave the team essentially. I think for us, we move forward. The team’s rallying around Tommy," Vigen said. "We’re excited about what Tommy brings to the table and really how these two weeks really allowed him to prepare well for today’s game."

Vigen said Rovig, who started the final 12 games of the 2019 season, will remain the backup. Third-stringer Casey Bauman, who started the first three games in 2019, is back after missing several games with an injury to his non-throwing hand, per Vigen (all three QBs are right-handed).

Winds have been gusting all afternoon in Bozeman, often exceeding 20 miles per hour. MSU's kickers were struggling with distance and accuracy on kicks going toward the Bobcat Athletic Complex (northwest). The wind, moving northeast, blew those kicks from left to right. 

FIRST QUARTER: UTM went three and out on each of its first two drives. MSU got into UTM territory on its first drive, thanks to a 17-yard run from Isaiah Ifanse, who missed the second half of the Cats' home game on Nov. 13 against Idaho with a leg injury and wasn't 100% at Montana, per Vigen. Mellott threw two straight incompletions to end the drive with a turnover on downs. 

With 5:03 left in the quarter, Blake Glessner missed a 43-yard field goal short and wide left. It was blocked by Korbin Harmon. UTM punted on the ensuing drive after getting two first downs. 

SCORE: Montana State 0, UT Martin 0

SECOND QUARTER: A 14-play, 73-yard drive from ended with a 1-yard touchdown run from Mellott with 12:26 left in the quarter to put the Cats up 7-0. It was the fifth TD of the season for the player known as "Touchdown Tommy."

About four minutes later, Glessner made a 34-yard field goal into the wind to put MSU up 10-0. 

UTM's Tyler Larco attempted a 58-yard field goal with 1:12 left in the half. The wind was at his back, but the kick came up short. 

MSU drove into Skyhawk territory on the following drive, but Mellott lost a fumble that was scooped up by UTM's Jay Woods and returned 68 yards for a TD with 16 seconds left in the half.

Cats safety Tre Webb got hurt on the play and looked to be in pain as he walked to the training room. He returned in the second half.

The furthest the Skyhawks drove into MSU territory in the first half was the 41 yard-line.

SCORE: Montana State 10, UT Martin 7

THIRD QUARTER: Glessner made his second field goal of the game with 8:45 left in the third, from 30 yards out, to put MSU up 13-7. 

One play earlier on an incomplete pass, Cats starting left guard Zach Redd limped off the field with an apparent left leg injury. He was replaced by Cole Sain but returned in the fourth quarter.

SCORE: Montana State 13, UT Martin 7

FOURTH QUARTER: Mellott rushed 73 yards for a TD with 14:05 left to put MSU up 19-7. Glessner missed the PAT off the left upright. Mellott found a hole up the middle and sprinted down the left sideline, avoiding a tackle for his second TD of the game and sixth of the season. He now has two 70-plus-yard TD runs on the season (he ran for a 74-yard score against Cal Poly on Oct. 9). 

The Cats forced a turnover on downs on the following drive after UTM got into MSU territory. 

Ifanse scored his first TD of the game on a 17-yard run with 5:16 left. It gave him 176 rushing yards, four short of Mellott. 

MSU freshman cornerback Simeon Woodard capped the win with an interception in which he ran into safety Tre Webb. 

FINAL SCORE: Montana State 26, UT Martin 7

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores406

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