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North Dakota State linebacker Aaron Mercadel takes down Montana State running back Logan Jones during the FCS semifinals Saturday at the Fargodome.

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FARGO, North Dakota — Tucker Rovig had seen this before.

Not even done with his dropback, the Montana State quarterback watched as Kevin Kassis beat his defender in man-to-man coverage on a fade route. Rovig tossed a pinpoint pass, letting his receiver run under the throw and bring it in. Kassis trotted into the end zone to cut North Dakota State’s lead to two touchdowns midway through the third quarter.

The Bobcats had come back from similar deficits before. This lead wasn’t insurmountable.

That is, until it was. Less than two minutes later, NDSU’s Trey Lance had his turn. He stood, poised, as he scanned the field. He evaded MSU’s pass rushers, jolting to his right. On the run, Lance let a pass loose down the sideline and found Dimitri Williams for a 73-yard touchdown.

Even when the Bobcats played their best, the Bison were better. No. 5-seeded MSU (11-4) was outclassed at No. 1 NDSU (15-0) as the Bison won 42-14 in the FCS semifinals on Saturday at the Fargodome.

But that doesn’t mean MSU’s run, their first appearance in the national final four since they won their last championship in 1984, is insignificant. This group could be remembered for years to come.

“The standard continues to raise, the standard for the offseason and for our culture,” MSU defensive lineman Derek Marks said. “Everyone’s bought in, and I expect it to continue moving forward.”

Bobcat fans have many reasons to never forget the 2019 MSU team. The Bobcats talked often before the season about how the standard had been raised because of 2018, their first run to the playoffs in four years.

MSU head coach Jeff Choate’s tenure began with a 4-7 season in 2016. Every season since, the Bobcats steadily raised their talent level through recruiting and transfers.

The Bobcats will reflect on their season, Marks said, because of the relationships with their teammates. Marks talked about how he loved the everyday fight for improvement as a team and the bonds he built because of it.

The Bobcats clicked in an undefeated November because of the way they rallied around Rovig, particularly during a two-game losing skid that jeopardized MSU’s playoff chances. They stuck with him despite his 77-yard performance at North Dakota as MSU’s offense slowed down. Rovig made their trust worthwhile when he kept improving and led the Bobcats on a six-game win streak.

Troy Andersen, a year after shifting to quarterback and setting a school record with 21 rushing touchdowns, will be remembered for his double-sided impact. The all-American athlete battled through injuries and led the team with seven rushing touchdowns to go with 6.5 sacks on defense through the first 11 games of the year.

But the Bobcats should also be remembered for winning without Andersen, including over rival Montana for the fourth time in a row. Their convincing two playoff victories at Bobcat Stadium in his absence shouldn’t be forgotten either.

After MSU’s win over Austin Peay in the quarterfinals, Choate called Marks a Bobcat great, a player to be immortalized among other legends to have passed through MSU’s program. He’s not the only one on the team.

Isaiah Ifanse set MSU playoff records for rushing yards in a game and career. Kevin Kassis cracked MSU’s top five in the program’s career receptions and receiving yards lists. Travis Jonsen, who unselfishly switched from quarterback to wide receiver, scored the game-winning touchdown run in overtime in a victory at Cal Poly.

All of their performances should be remembered.

“I think this is a tremendously resilient group of young men that really care about each other,” Choate said. “That was repeatedly on display throughout their careers and this season.”

Choate told the Bobcats to not let a game define them. Against NDSU, the Bobcats couldn’t keep up with Christian Watson as he blazed by MSU defenders for receiving and rushing touchdowns. MSU’s defenders were often run over as they tried to bring down Lance or other Bison ball carriers. The Bobcats’ offensive and defensive linemen couldn’t provide the same push up front as they normally do.

After the game, Choate talked about how proud he was of what the 2019 team accomplished as much about the future of the program. The Bison, he said, illustrated how far the Bobcats still are from the top tier of the FCS.

Perhaps MSU’s accomplishments this year will only serve as a springboard for the program’s long-lasting success.

“We know where the bar is,” Choate said. “We don’t have to look far to find it. But as I told these guys, we’re going to get there. That’s our goal, and we’re not going to deviate from it.”

Asked about whether the Bison might see the Bobcats in the playoffs again, NDSU head coach Matt Entz said he wasn’t worried about that yet. There’s no guarantee the Bobcats will ever return to this point.

Marks, though, believes the Bobcats will have “nothing but success” with his career now over.

“They’re going to face adversity like every team does, but setbacks never define this team and this university,” Marks said. “I just expect a lot of great things, and they expect big things of themselves. I’m just excited to watch this next group of guys.”

Choate said he will think back on MSU’s 2019 season because of the resilience of his players. The response from those two consecutive losses, Rovig’s rise, Andersen’s absence. All of it was consequential in the ultimate result.

This was a team to be remembered.

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.