The Montana State Bobcats took on the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (copy)

Montana State wide receiver Willie Patterson fights for yardage on a punt return against UT Martin on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

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Brent Vigen is familiar with the success of Sam Houston.

Vigen was North Dakota State’s offensive coordinator when the Bison defeated Sam Houston in the FCS national championship in Frisco, Texas, in 2011 and 2012. NDSU’s opponent had plenty of speed and strength then, Vigen noted.

As Vigen prepares for the Bearkats as Montana State’s head coach, Sam Houston seems to be no different in those regards a decade later. But the Bobcats are eager for the challenge they face. Vigen called it a “big task.”

No. 8-seeded Montana State (10-2) will play at top-seeded and defending national champion Sam Houston (11-0) in the FCS quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Huntsville, Texas.

“Our guys are confident that we can match up with anybody if we play well, and we’ve got to get ourselves in position to play well,” Vigen said. “Our guys are taking that approach each week, and we’ve got to do it again this week for sure.”

Denton relief fund

Vigen, in his weekly press conference Monday, thanked MSU fans for offering support for those in Denton, which was devastated by fire last week. MSU opened up avenues for people to donate items like blankets, towels and toiletries.

Donations to a relief fund can still be made through Opportunity Bank, which has 24 locations around Montana including in Bozeman and Livingston.

“Thank you very much to all our fans supporting one of our communities that suffered greatly,” Vigen said, “and we certainly as a football program want to support them in any way we can.”

Versatile offense

Vigen said the Bearkats possess “a lot of weapons.” Their offense, he added, begins with their quarterback.

Walter Payton Award finalist Eric Schmid has thrown for 2,464 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 57.3% of his throws. He’s also third on his team with 338 rushing yards on 75 attempts.

Vigen noted Schmid’s numbers might not be as spectacular as they could be because Sam Houston has won in blowouts several times this year so he hasn’t needed to finish games.

The Bearkats are third in the FCS with 43 points per game and fourth with 496.1 yards of total offense. Sam Houston is 10th in the country with a 45.1% conversion rate on third downs.

Three Bearkats have over 500 yards receiving and seven are over 100. Cody Chrest leads the way with 640 yards on 46 receptions and five touchdowns, while Ife Adeyi has 558 yards, 45 receptions and eight touchdowns while Jequez Ezzard has 538 yards, 36 catches and six TDs.

“They’re a team that can beat you on the ground, that can beat you through the air,” Vigen said. “(Schmid’s) a very athletic guy that can extend plays and can run the football as well.”

On the ground, Ramon Jefferson leads Sam Houston with 1,138 yards and 13 touchdowns on 162 attempts. Six Sam Houston players have rushed for more than 100 yards this year.

The Bearkats are sixth in the nation with 241.7 rushing yards per game.

“At running back, they’re good,” Vigen said. “We’ve got to be able to do everything we can to slow that run down and make it hard for them to throw. That’s been our formula all year and it will have to be against them.”

The Montana State Bobcats took on the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (copy)

Montana State running back Lane Sumner runs against UT Martin on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

Strong run defense

Sam Houston’s defense and offense complement each other, Vigen added. MSU may have a difficult time relying on a staple of its offense.

The Bearkats are fourth in the nation with 75.7 rushing yards allowed per contest. The Bobcats are seventh among all FCS teams with 232.6 yards per game on the ground. Vigen pointed out Sam Houston’s front seven is skilled, including with its pass rush.

While opponents average 269.4 passing yards per contest against Sam Houston, Vigen said that may be because those teams are attempting to catch up after the Bearkats gain early leads. Against Incarnate Word last week in the second round of the playoffs, the Cardinals’ Cameron Ward completed 39 of 61 passes for 481 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions as Sam Houston won 49-42.

“They’re just playing sound, fundamental defense while playing really fast,” Vigen said. “They’ve followed up good offense with good defense and vice versa pretty consistently all year, so we’ll have our hands full with their front seven.”

Update on injuries

Vigen said TJ Session, MSU’s redshirt freshman right tackle who’s been out since Nov. 13, will still be out this week due to injury but is “making progress.” The Bobcats anticipated Session would be out for a good portion of December.

Late in MSU’s win over UT Martin in the second round of the playoffs last week, MSU defensive tackle Chase Benson was slow to get up following a play.

Vigen said Monday the senior was dealing with “pretty typical Monday soreness.” The coach added Benson, a first-team all-Big Sky selection, is hoping to be available to play this week.

“You get to that sixth year and play in a really physical spot, there’s an accumulation that comes into play. He played really well on Saturday. When he walked off the field, was certainly beat up, but we’ll get him back and going this week,” Vigen said. “It’s typically been a process every week to get him back and up and running, but trust he’s going to do everything he can to be out there and going on Saturday.”

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

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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