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BISMARCK, N.D. — Tommy Mellott and Cam Miller started the season on the sideline.

Fast forward four months and the quarterbacks for Montana State and North Dakota State are one win away from leading their teams to an FCS national championship.

The Bobcats and Bison square off on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Frisco, Texas.

Mellott, a freshman from Butte, saw plenty of time on the field for the Bobcats, but little at quarterback. Mellott played wide receiver and special teams, but Mellott was named the starting quarterback after the team’s loss to Montana on Nov. 20. Previous starter Matthew McKay later entered the transfer portal.

“At the end of the regular season, we felt like we needed to make a change,” Montana State coach Brent Vigen said. “We felt like he was capable of doing what he’s done, (but) maybe not to this degree. He needed to keep improving, and he has done that.”

In the Bobcats’ three playoff victories, he has accounted for 11 touchdowns, with the majority of his damage coming on the ground. He’s carried the ball 74 times for 430 yards and six touchdowns. Passing-wise, he’s completed 24 of 46 attempts for 439 yards and four scores, without an interception. He also caught one touchdown.

The move to Mellott was not unexpected. His improvement throughout the fall led to a feeling of inevitably he was the Bobcats’ quarterback of the future.

“Getting immersed into the games is much different than practice, obviously,” Mellott said. “Getting those reps has been the biggest thing.”

He realizes his stiffest test comes Saturday in the championship game against the Bison. North Dakota State allows just 11.2 points per game. NDSU held James Madison to 14 points in the semifinal round, 24 under its average.

“They’re a really well-coached team. They’ve been through this a few times,” Mellott said. “We’re expecting their best, and we’re ready to give them our best.”

Logan McCormick, NDSU defensive lineman, said Mellott is the real deal.

“He’s just a baller,” McCormick said. “He competes on every single snap. He’ll be a great challenge to defend.”

Quincy Patterson won the starting quarterback job out of fall camp for the Bison but was eventually replaced by Miller, a sophomore from Solon, Iowa. Patterson continues to see time as primarily a running threat, but Miller is the undisputed starter.

Miller effectively manages the run-heavy Bison offense, which averages 33.79 points and 273.6 yards per game rushing.

Sticking to the same routine has been a focus in the lead up to the game.

“I feel like I haven’t changed anything from the past,” he said. “I’m preparing for this game the same as when I got my first start. Obviously, there’s a lot on the line. (I’m) trying to stay poised and calm for this game.”

Miller joins a hallowed list of former Bison quarterbacks to start FCS championship games — Brock Jensen and current NFL QBs Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Trey Lance.

“This is a really big accomplishment for to me to be in that category of guys that have played in national championship games,” he said. “To be one of those guys means a lot to me.

“I feel like the atmosphere is going to be great. (We’re) going to lean on the upperclassmen to get the job done.”

Montana State allows just 13 points per game and has been solid against the run, permitting just over a 100 yards per game. NDSU will put that to test, but may also have to mix it up.

“We’ve seen a real emergence from Cam Miller,” Vigen said. “He’s throwing the ball really well and has the ability to extend plays.”

Matt Entz, North Dakota State’s coach, said Miller is his own biggest critic.

“He expects so much of himself,” Entz said. “The pressure he puts on himself, sometimes we just have to pat him on the back and say, ‘The next play is the most important one.’”

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