Huge leads, big rallies, game-winning drives.
In both meetings between Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington, there was plenty of wild moments that have made those games memorable.
Just in the two games the Bearkats and the Eagles played against each other, there were more wacky twists and turns than someone could make up on a Hollywood script.
In both instances, which just so happened to be in the playoffs and on the road in Cheney, Wash., the Kats somehow, someway survived and managed to come out on top.
That’s makes the storylines for Saturday’s contest between fourth-ranked Sam Houston State and second-ranked Eastern Washington awfully intriguing.
“That’s a good, talented team,” Bearkats senior defensive end Jarrett Brown said. “Against a team like that, you’ve got to get them out of their comfort zone.”
Their most recent meeting was just a little more than nine months ago when the Kats and the Eagles clashed on Eastern Washington’s red turf in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs with a spot in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game on the line.
The Bearkats started probably better than they could have imagined.
Sam Houston State scored on its opening possession, then got a pick-6 to take a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter.
In the second, the Bearkats’ running game took off. Quarterback Brian Bell uncorked a 72-yard touchdown run. Running back Keshawn Hill then sprinted for 15 yards before diving into the end zone and utility player Richard Sincere scored a 6-yard TD to give the Kats a 35-0 lead in the first half and went into the break with the five-touchdown advantage after rushing for 223 yards in the second.
Defensively, Sam Houston State allowed 163 yards, but had also forced two turnovers.
“We started out great,” Brown said. “We were real assignment-sound.”
The second half was a different story and Eastern Washington freshman quarterback Vernon Adams led a furious rally.
The Eagles scored on their first two possessions of the third when Adams hit touchdown passes of 31 and 22 yards to receivers Greg Herd and Brandon Kaufman, respectively. Eastern Washington successfully converted an onside kick and scored three plays later on a 43-yard touchdown pass to pull to within 35-21.
“We were shocked,” Brown said. “They came back on four teams that season and our coach told us that this team is known to come back from holes they were buried in. We didn’t take as close to heart as we needed to take it.
“We got too comfortable with the lead. They made a good sub and that’s when (Adams) came into the game. He’s good on his feet and he’s good at finding receivers downfield.”
Adams connected on another 43-yard strike to Kaufman to pull Eastern Washington to within 35-28.
The Bearkats responded on the next drive when Bell found tight end Shane Young in the end zone for a 4-yard score.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles scored again to narrow the deficit to 42-35.
On the next drive, Sam Houston State’s offense stalled in the red zone, but kicker Miguel Antonio booted a 42-yard field goal, which proved to be the difference.
Eastern Washington scored again to narrow the deficit to 45-42, but the Bearkats ran out the final 3:04, including a big 5-yard run on third-and-3 by Kats running back Timothy Flanders to ice the game. As a result, Sam Houston State clinched a trip to the national championship game for a second consecutive year.
“I learned my lesson,” Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said. “You’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal. We didn’t and it almost ended up biting us in the butt. A lot of credit goes to them. When you get behind like that, you take chances and the chances worked. We were just fortunate enough to have the ball at the end of the game.”
The first playoff battle wasn’t lacking with any dramatics either.
The Eagles were in control of the game from the get-go. Eastern Washington scored on touchdown runs by Lars Slind in the first quarter and added a 5-yard TD by Darius Washington to take a 13-0 halftime lead.
Following a Bearkat touchdown by Jarrod Fuller, the Eagles countered with two scores in less than 20 seconds to take a 27-7 lead.
Sam Houston State finally got a big play when Dustin Long hit a 69-yard touchdown to Jason Mathenia to pull to within 13 by the end of the third.
Seconds into the fourth, Eastern Washington punched the ball into the end zone again and the Eagles had a 34-14 lead with 14:54 to go.
The Kats roared back with a 34-yard touchdown from Dustin Long to Corey Roberts. Sam Houston State then scored again on an 8-yard run by Robert Garmon, which pulled the Kats to within 34-28 with 3:34 to play.
Eastern Washington was setting up to boot a 37-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining.
Vincent Cartwright, a receiver, was plugged into the game at the insistence of All-American safety Paul Donelson to attempt to block the kick.
The attempt was low and Cartwright blocked it with his chest.
That left the Kats with 43 seconds, no timeouts left and 75 yards to go for the end zone.
Sam Houston could only get 9 yards on the first three plays and were at its own 34 with 25 seconds to play.
That’s when Long hit Mathenia for four consecutive completions, including the game-winner from 7 yards out as time expired.
With the game tied at 34, Lance Garner kicked the game-winning extra point.
“It was a battle last year. It was a strange battle, in terms of a tale of two halves. It was a battle,” Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. “Reminding me of 2004, that was an interesting one. I still remember that and I give them credit. It’s probably long forgotten by most people. In 2004, Sam Houston did an incredible job coming back and scored a lot of unanswered points to win the game, I think, on the last play of the game. They’ve proven what they are as a program. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us going down there.”
The Bearkats and the Eagles meet again on Saturday afternoon at Bowers Stadium in one of the most anticipated games in the FCS of 2013.
“It’s two totally different teams,” Fritz said. “I really believe that teams who look back, whether it’s the revenge factor or the one who won the game a year ago, I think that lasts until you get out there for the first play. Then you’re playing and the one who’s prepared better will win the ballgame. I don’t put a lot of stock into that.”
Plenty of dramatics filled first two contests between Sam Houston State, E. Washington
Huge leads, big rallies, game-winning drives.
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