The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Sports

December 9, 2012

FCS PLAYOFFS — On the road again

Bearkats headed to Eastern Washington for Saturday afternoon game

HUNTSVILLE — After looking right at home in Big Sky country on Friday night, the Bearkats will be booking another cross-country trip as they’ll be heading to Washington state this week.

Eastern Washington, the No. 2 seed in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, survived a second-half rally from Illinois State and pulled away to win its quarterfinal showdown 51-35 on Saturday night.

Sam Houston, which defeated No. 3 seed Montana State 34-16 last Friday, will now head to Cheney, Wash., to take on the Eagles on Saturday at 3 p.m. CST in the FCS semifinals. The showdown will be televised live on ESPNU.

“Well, they throw the ball really well. That’s a big part of their offense,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said of the Eagles late on Saturday night. “Eastern Washington is the number two team in the playoffs and they’re very deserving.”

“They’re tough on the red carpet there,” Fritz said of the Eagles’ red turf. “They’re a very strong team.”

Eastern Washington, co-champs of the Big Sky Conference, was led Saturday night by quarterback Kyle Padron, who completed 19-of-33 passes for 358 yards and six touchdowns.

Following a closely fought first half in which Eastern Washington (11-2 overall) led 24-17 at the break, the Eagles scored a pair of TDs in the first four minutes of the third quarter to jump out to a 38-17 advantage.

Illinois State (9-4) fought back to score 18 unanswered points and pull within three at 38-35 with 13:55 to play.

The Eagles finished off the Redbirds’ rally with a pair of touchdown passes to clinch a berth in the FCS semifinals.

Junior receiver Brandon Kaufman, who stands 6-foot-5, caught nine passes for 191 yards, including a 76-yard score midway through the fourth that extended Eastern Washington’s lead back out to two scores.

Padron, like his predecessor and 2011 Walter Payton Award winner Bo Levi Mitchell, transferred to Eastern Washington from SMU. This season, Padron has passed for 2,374 yards and 17 touchdowns.

The Eagles also ran the ball 33 times for 109 yards. Quincy Forte was Eastern Washington’s leading rusher against the Redbirds on Saturday with 116 yards on seven carries, including a 57-yarder that set up the Eagles’ final touchdown.

“Every team at this point of the season can run the ball effectively,” Fritz said.

Defensively, the Eagles had a rough day as Illinois State, the third-place finisher out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, racked up 520 yards of offense (372 passing and 148 rushing).

“They’ve got a real solid defense,” Fritz said. “They were real good at creating some turnovers (one fumble and two interceptions). Illinois State has also gotten a lot of yards and points on a lot of teams this year.”

In the other semifinal, No. 1 seed North Dakota State will host No. 5 seed Georgia Southern on Friday night in Fargo, N.D., at the Fargodome.

The winners of the two semifinal games will meet Jan. 5 at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco for the FCS national championship game.

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