Cheney, WA (Sports Network) - Whew.
If you're connected with the Sam Houston State football program, that's the
feeling Saturday night despite the Bearkats returning to the NCAA Division I
Football Championship Game.
The unseeded Southland Conference co-champion survived a nearly historic
collapse against second-seeded Eastern Washinghton, 45-42, in the national
semifinals, completing a unique playoff sweep of the tri-champions from the
Big Sky Conference.
The Bearkats (11-3), whose 35-0 halftime lead was nearly whittled all the way
down, set up a championship game rematch against top-seeded North Dakota State
(13-1) on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas. NDSU won last season's title game, 17-6.
North Dakota State can breath a little easier that it's a Missouri Valley
Football Conference member. Before Sam Houston State beat Big Sky tri-champion
Eastern Washington, it eliminated the other two champions, Cal Poly and
Montana State, from the playoffs.
Coach Willie Fritz's Bearkats reached the title game again because they built
the big halftime cushion. The second half seemed like it would be
anticlimactic, but it wasn't when Eastern Washington redshirt freshman
quarterback Vernon Adams, in relief of starter Kyle Padron, threw for six
His final one, and the third one to Brandon Kaufman - a 33-yarder with 3:04
left in the fourth quarter - pulled Eastern Washington within 45-42.
The Eagles followed with an onside kick, but Trey Diller recovered it for Sam
Houston State. From there, the Bearkats ran the ball eight times, picking
up two first downs, to end the game.
Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders didn't find the end zone in
the scoreathon, but the junior All-America finished with 231 yards on 34
carries. The Bearkats rushed for 418 yards, including 292 in the first half.
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin talked at halftime about being an
optimist, but few could have forseen his team's comeback from a 35-0 deficit.
After the Eagles (11-3) pulled within 42-35 on Adams' 7-yard touchdown pass to
Nicholas Edwards with 9:48 left, the Bearkats probably thought they had enough
breathing room again when Miguel Antonio kicked a 42-yard field goal to make
it 45-35 with 5:33 left.
The points proved to be the winning margin while Sam Houston State barely
avoided FCS infamy. The host Eagles nearly matched the largest second-half
comeback ever for a win - Nevada's rally from 35 points down to beat Weber
State, 55-49, on Nov. 2, 1991.
In the first half, Sam Houston State's big-play ability was too much for
Eastern Washington, which entered the game with five straight wins and a 7-0
record at home on its red field. But "The Inferno" was just a cold unwelcoming
turf for the Eagles during the first-half blitzkrieg.
Quarterback Brian Bell capped the Bearkats' opening drive with a 6-yard
touchdown run with 7:34 left in the first quarter
Robert Shaw then scored on a 37-yard interception return of a Padron pass and
Sam Houston State pushed its lead to 14-0 with 3:08 left in the quarter.
Bell scored on 72-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, and then the
lead swelled to 35-0 when Keshawn Hill and Richard Sincere scored on runs.
Shaw's second interception of the game - this time off Adams - came in Sam
Houston State's end zone and denied Eastern Washington a touchdown with 3:06
Three of Adams' touchdown passes came in the third quarter - a 21-yarder to
Greg Herd on the Eagles' first drive, a 22-yarder to Kaufman which gave him
the FCS single-season record for receiving yards and, following a recovered
onside kick, a 43-yarder to Ashton Cook.
Kaufman then caught a 43-yard touchdown by wrestling a long pass away from Sam
Houston State cornerback Dax Swanson in the Bearkats' end zone, making it
35-28 with 13:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Flanders fueled Sam Houston State's ensuing drive with a 49-yard rush and Bell
capped it with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Shane Young, making it 42-28 with
Swanson picked off Adams with 5:20 left in the game for his 14th career
interception, a new school record. Ronnie Choate first set the Sam Houston
career record with 13 picks from 1955-59.
Adams completed 14-of-26 pass attempts for 364 yards. Padron threw for 117
yards, giving Eastern Washington 481 yards through the air.
Kaufman finished with nine receptions for 216 yards. His 1,851 receiving yards
surpassed the previous FCS single-season record of 1,712 yards set by
Delaware's Eddie Conti in 1998.
Sam Houston State was the preseason No. 1 and is 11-1 against FCS teams,
losing only to Southland co-champion Central Arkansas as well as FBS members
Baylor and Texas A&M.
The Sam Houston State-North Dakota State game will mark the third meeting
since the championships began in 1978 that the same opponents have met in the
final in back-to-back years. Marshall and Youngstown State battled in both the
1991 and 1992 championship games before Marshall and Montana faced off in both
the 1995 and 1996 finals.
North Dakota State 23, Georgia Southern 20
Fargo, ND (Sports Network) - With a trip to the FCS national championship game
on the line and a chance to make history for both schools, it came down to two
They were plays which would ultimately determine North Dakota State's and
Georgia Southern's seasons.
With 3:10 left in regulation and Georgia Southern leading by four points,
defending national champion North Dakota State faced a 4th-and-3 from the
Eagles' 5-yard line.
Coach Craig Bohl turned to who else but junior signal-caller Brock Jensen,
who took a quarterback sneak in for a touchdown with 3:05 remaining, giving
the Bison a 23-20 lead and eventually, the game-winning points Friday night at
"I am little bit out of words," Bohl said. "That's probably one of the most
draining games I've ever been a part of."
North Dakota State (13-1) advanced to its second straight national title game
appearance, thanks to Jensen's late-game touchdown and a Carlton Littlejohn
blocked 50-yard field goal with 34 seconds left, attempted by Georgia Southern
place-kicker Drew Ruggles, who is also a member of the Eagles' soccer team.
The Bison make the trip back to Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 5, to face Sam Houston
State (11-3) in a rematch of last season's FCS national championship game.
NDSU was a 17-6 winner.
As for the quarterback who has now led the Bison to a 27-2 record over the
last two years, Jensen relished the opportunity.
"Those are the type of situations you live for as a competitor of the game,"
Jensen said. "We called it, there was a hole there for me, and I just tried to
hit it as hard as I could."
Jensen only threw for 76 yards and completed nine passes, but had 58 rushing
yards and the game-changing touchdown.
In fact, the Bison were outgained 430 yards to 276, including 271-200 in
rushing yards, but once again, the team found ways to win the game.
Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon accounted for 259 yards of
offense, including 168 rushing yards and one touchdown and 98 passing yards
and one touchdown, but the Eagles (10-4) and third-year coach Jeff Monken
fell in the FCS semifinals for the third straight year. It was also the second
straight year their season ended against NDSU.
Georgia Southern struck first, proving from the get-go that it wouldn't miss
any opportunities for points, especially after totaling just 17 in the team's
last two trips to the semifinals.
On a 4th-and-1 at the Bison 1-yard line, J.J. Wilcox, an all-conference
safety, rushed for a touchdown on his first carry of the season, capping off a
14-play, 79-yard opening drive. The extra point, however, was blocked.
It was the first offensive touchdown allowed by the Bison in three playoff
contests and the first rushing touchdown allowed since Nov. 17.
The Bison responded with their own scoring drive as running back John
Crockett's 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 6-6. The extra point was
blocked as well by defensive tackle Brent Russell - his second of the year -
just before the end of the first quarter.
Crockett finished with 60 rushing yards and one touchdown.
In the second quarter, McKinnon completed just his 19th pass of the season,
but it was a big one as Dominique Swope hauled in the catch - just the third
of his career - for 49 yards and a touchdown, and the Eagles led, 13-6.
At halftime, Georgia Southern had 190 yards of offense (113 rushing) compared
to NDSU's 136 yards of offense (73 rushing). The Bison added a field goal, but
On Georgia Southern's first drive of the second half, Christian Dudzik forced
the game's first turnover as he striped and recovered the ball from McKinnon,
giving the Bison the ball at their own 41-yard line.
Two plays later, running back Sam Ojuri scampered 53 yards for a touchdown,
giving the Bison a 16-13 lead, their first of the contest.
With all the momentum, North Dakota State forced a 4th-and-19 at the Eagles'
6-yard line on the next possession. All of a sudden, a Jordan Champion
roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the ball right back to Georgia Southern and
briefly took the wind out of the Bison faithful.
"Without question, in my mind, I knew it was going to be a pivotal play," Bohl
said of the penalty. "Once you get through the frustration you say, 'Hey,
here's a young man trying to make a play.'"
The Eagles made the most of the golden opportunity and drove into NDSU
territory, where McKinnon scored his first rushing touchdown of the game from
25 yards out, giving his team a 20-16 lead. It was his seventh straight 100-
yard rushing game.
Georgia Southern, however, was hurt by errant penalties and couldn't stop
North Dakota State on the 4th-and-3 late in the game, even after using two
straight timeouts to prepare for the play.
"It was a great football game; we just didn't make enough plays down the
stretch to win it," Monken said. "We had opportunities. We had the two foolish
penalties on one drive and had a chance on fourth down and just couldn't get
the stop we needed."
The Eagles finished with 13 penalties for 103 costly yards.
Swope rushed for 77 yards and the All-America Russell finished off his career
with a school-record 25th sack.
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