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New starting quarterback Tommy Mellott sparked Montana State’s offense and the defense was its usual dominant self in a 26-7 win over UT Martin in the first round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

The eighth-seeded Bobcats (10-2) will play at top-seeded Sam Houston (11-0) next week in the quarterfinals. UT Martin ended the season at 10-3.

The previous two weeks have been turbulent for the Bobcats. They suffered a 29-10 loss at rival Montana on Nov. 20 and faced a difficult two weeks trying to fix their issues. MSU’s coaches chose to make Tommy Mellott the starting quarterback after Matthew McKay started all 11 regular season games. The North Carolina State transfer then chose to enter the transfer portal, he announced Thursday.

“Coming out of the Montana game, we made a decision to move to Tommy," Vigen told MSU play-by-play broadcaster Zach Mackey before Saturday’s game. "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, came into the game with 294 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns, and he was 2 for 4 with 12 passing yards.

Tucker Rovig, who started the final 12 games of the 2019 season, remained the backup QB, and third-stringer Casey Bauman, who started the first three games in 2019, returned from injury.

"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."

Mellott’s running ability continued to be on display Saturday, and he engineered some productive drive early. But the first drive ended in a turnover on downs following an incomplete pass from Mellott.

A 43-yard field goal attempt from Blake Glessner was blocked by Korbin Harmon with 5:03 left in the first quarter. Neither team scored in the first.

Mellott opened the scoring on a sneak on 4th and goal from 1-yard line at the 12:26 mark of the second quarter, capping a 14-play, 73-yard drive.

Glessner made a 34-yard field goal into the wind with 8:15 left in the half to put MSU up 10-0.

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

MSU looked like it would at least enter the half up 10-0 as they drove into Skyhawk territory with less than 30 seconds left. But Mellott fumbled, UTM's Jay Woods recovered it and sprinted 68 yards for a TD with 16 seconds left in the half. The halftime score was 10-7.

Glessner put the Bobcats up 13-7 with a 30-yard field goal at the 8:45 mark of the third quarter.

Mellott made it 19-7 with a 73-yard TD run with 14:05 left. Glessner missed the extra point attempt off the left upright.

Ifanse rushed for a 17-yard run with 5:16 left to put the Bobcats up 26-7.

Mellott finished with 180 rushing yards, and Ifanse had 176. UT Martin finished with 178 total yards of offense.

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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