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January 3, 2013

NCAA Division I Football Championship Game: Almost time for a rare rematch

Bison know Bearkats have been gunning for them since this time last year

FRISCO — In the 30-plus years that the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision has held national title games, a rematch from the year before has been a rare occurrence.

In fact, when the 2013 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State kicks off Saturday at FC Dallas Stadium, it will be only the fourth time that the same two teams have clashed in the national championship game in consecutive seasons.

The Bearkats wouldn’t have it any other way.

After falling to the Bison 17-6 nearly a year ago in the 2012 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game, Sam Houston has another chance to tackle top-ranked North Dakota State and bring home the Kats’ first football national championship.

“It’s a blessing just to get ourselves to this point and have a chance at the national title. We’re very thankful for this opportunity and we want to make the best of it,” Sam Houston junior Richard Sincere said Thursday.

Even without many of the starters who helped the Bison win the FCS national championship last season, North Dakota State found a way keep churning and make it back to Frisco.

“After a couple of weeks, we saw that they were the same team and had the same people. I felt we would meet again if they could continue to play the kind of football they were capable of playing,” Bearkats senior safety Robert Shaw said.

Throughout the 2012 campaign, the Bison have dealt with teams charging at them, wanting to knock off the defending champs, a team which stood atop the Top 25 polls for most of the season.

“After we won last year, we knew going into the offseason that we were going to have a huge target on our back. Everyone stepped up in the offseason. We went through a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, so we kind of put that back in the rear-view mirror,” North Dakota State safety Bobby Ollman said.

“We kept on going and came together as a family.”

In the semifinals against Georgia Southern, North Dakota State rallied after trailing for most of the fourth quarter and pushed ahead for good on a 5-yard run by quarterback Brock Jensen. Then the defense blocked a would-be game-tying field goal by Georgia Southern to win 23-20 and punch the first ticket back to the championship game.

With the Bison already holding one spot, the Bearkats saw they had a chance to get another shot at the team that denied them a national championship.

“That motivated us,” Shaw said. “If they won, we’ve got to win. We were better than them last year and we wanted our rematch. That’s great.”

With Sam Houston meeting them again in Frisco for the FCS national championship, the Bison know the Bearkats have even more motivation than just winning the title.

“We know they’re definitely going to be gunning for us. They want their revenge,” North Dakota State defensive end Ricky Hagen said. “We came down here and beat them and it was a tough game. We know they’re going to be coming for us this year, so we’ve got to bring our A game.”

As much as the Bison know how motivated Sam Houston will be to return the favor, North Dakota State has dealt with a few revenge games this season.

After eking out a 20-17 win over South Dakota State in the regular-season home finale on Nov. 10 that clinched at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship, the Bison and the Jackrabbits met again in Fargo, N.D., three weeks later in the second round of the FCS playoffs.

North Dakota State didn’t allow any kind of comeback and blew out South Dakota State 28-3 in one of the Bison’s most complete performances.

Two weeks later, North Dakota State hosted Georgia Southern in the Fargodome in the FCS semifinals, the same matchup, round and location as in the 2011 playoffs. The Eagles were much more competitive the second time around and led throughout much of the fourth quarter.

“We realize we have a target on our back,” Ollman said. “Going into practice and games like this, we realize we have to ratchet up the intensity a little bit. We can’t be off on assignments. We’ve got to be assignment-sound.

“In games like this, we have a slogan that’s to do your job and trust your teammates. If we do that, I feel like no matter who we play, we’ll be OK. We’ve definitely got to do our job and trust our teammates.”

While his players are chomping at the bit to get after North Dakota State for the FCS national championship for a second straight season, Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz says the Bearkats are focused, just like they need to be for any other game.

“I told them that at the end of practice, this is the sixth time I’ve played for a national championship, either as a player, assistant coach or a head coach,” the coach said. “Those last 48 hours are very important. It’s not physical anymore. If it’s time to relax, relax, watch TV, watch a game, whatever.

“When it’s time to focus and lock in at meetings and our walk-through tomorrow, be ready to go.”

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