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Watson returns, sparks Bison offense with key catches

Receiver in lineup after recovering from hamstring injury that caused him to miss three previous playoff games

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson heads upfield after a reception against Montana State during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum
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FRISCO, Texas — It's almost like Christian Watson never left. Montana State wishes the North Dakota State receiver hadn't returned.

After missing the Bison's three previous Football Championship Subdivision playoff games with an injured hamstring, Watson returned for the national title game against Montana State and had a major impact.

Watson had four receptions for 61 yards, including two key first-down catches, to help NDSU rout Montana State 38-10 at Toyota Stadium and win its ninth FCS championship.

"It was crazy. I couldn't be more blessed to be able to play one more game. I didn't want to go out on the sidelines," Watson said during the on-field celebration at Toyota Stadium. "I did everything I could, they did everything they could for me to come out here and play one more. I couldn't be more grateful to end on this note."

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North Dakota State's Christan Watson is ready to take his shot against Montana State during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Watson was NDSU's leading receiver in the regular season with 39 catches for 744 yards. Included were several long touchdowns.

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He pulled a hamstring during practice after the Bison's regular-season finale against South Dakota in November. He was sidelined for playoff victories over Southern Illinois, East Tennessee State and James Madison.

After nearly returning for the semifinals against JMU, indications were that Watson would play the title game. It was apparent during warmups he was ready to go.

"It gave me a lot of confidence having him out there," Bison quarterback Cam Miller said. "He's probably the best player on the field each and every week. Just to have him out there it's really special."

Watson's first catch was an important one. With the Bison facing third down-and-14 from their own 16, Miller found Watson along the right sideline for a 20-yard completion. That drive ended in Hunter Luepke's 8-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 NDSU lead.

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North Dakota State's Christian Watson gives the title trophy a kiss after the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Later in the first quarter, Miller hit Watson for 18 yards on second-and-3 from the Bison 32. Watson caught an 8-yard pass later on the same drive, which ended in an 11-yard Luepke TD run early in the second quarter.

Watson finished the first quarter with three catches for 49 yards.

"He was spectacular today. He had a lot of key receptions on third down and a big one in the second half, as well," Luepke said. "Anytime you have one of your best weapons on the team coming back, it's awesome."

It was a fitting way for Watson's NDSU career to end, given he was the team's big-play receiver and kick returner the last three seasons.

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He will return to Fargo for a couple of days before going to south Florida to train for the Senior Bowl, an all-star game for top NFL Draft eligible prospects. One draft analyst has the 6-foot-5, 210-pound receiver being selected in the third or fourth round.

"It's huge. Every single opportunity I get to pursue the dream I've had since I was a kid means I'm extremely thankful, extremely grateful and blessed to be in the position I'm in. I can't wait," Watson said.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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