Sam Houston State hoped to make history and exorcise a few demons Saturday by winning a national championship.
Just like they did a year ago, the Bearkats left FC Dallas Stadium with an empty feeling in the pit of their stomachs as they had to watch North Dakota State celebrate another NCAA Football Championship Subdivision championship at their expense.
In the second half, the Bison came up with big plays and produced touchdowns, while Sam Houston only could muster a field goal. The Bearkats turned over the ball three times in a 39-13 defeat in the 2013 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game.
“It hurts, you know,” Bearkats senior linebacker Darius Taylor said, “to get back a second time and not being able to finish again. This is going to be my last year and I’m not going to get to play with these guys again.
“I just say to the young guys and the guys coming back to keep working hard and good things will come. I told them all in the locker room to keep their heads up. I love ’em. I told my seniors that I had a great four years with them and they’re like my brothers. They know that and I expressed it to them after the game. I just want to tell coach (Willie) Fritz that I love him and I’m going to miss him. It’s been a fun ride.”
Tied at 10 at halftime, Sam Houston was just 30 minutes away from winning its first FCS national championship, if it could find a way to finish the game.
In their first possession of the second half, the Kats were making their way down the field, like they did for much of the first half.
After a defensive pass interference penalty on North Dakota State, cornerback Marcus Williams extended Sam Houston’s drive and the Bearkats, who finished the 2012 season at 11-4, continued to push the ball into Bison territory.
On third-and-4 from the NDSU 41-yard line, Kats running back Timothy Flanders found an opening in the Bison defensive line and broke free all the way to the end zone for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown. The score, however, came off the board due to a holding call on freshman offensive lineman Donald Jackson.
“I’m more disappointed in some of our penalties that we had were pre-snap penalties. I tell the guys all the time that once the ball is snapped, all of the decisions made out there are subjective decisions. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it,” Fritz said.
“I’d have to go look and see if that was a good call or not. There was some opportunities there. I thought we could’ve answered two quick scores that they had, but it didn’t bounce that way. You’ve got to fight through that and we didn’t.”
The Bearkats went from taking the lead to suddenly needing to convert a third-and-13 from midfield. With not much option other than trying to throw for the first down, Sam Houston quarterback Brian Bell was intercepted by Bison linebacker Carlton Littlejohn.
North Dakota State (14-1) methodically drove the field and punched the ball across the goal line on a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Brock Jensen, who was named the title game’s most outstanding player.
“That’s a big turning point. Whenever a team scores a touchdown and it gets taken off the board, it gives us more momentum,” Williams said. “Football’s a game of momentum. If you’re up, you’re up and if you’re high, you’re high. In this game, we needed as much momentum as we could.
“Them not getting that touchdown and us getting the turnover, that was big for us.”
Sam Houston tried to answer that score, moving into Bison territory on the following possession. After gaining 9 yards on first-and-10 from North Dakota State’s 44, the Kats’ drive stalled and they turned the ball over on downs.
Quickly, the Bison were back in scoring position following a 31-yard connection from Jensen to wide receiver Zach Vraa. A few plays later, North Dakota State running back Sam Ojuri bulled his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 2. The Bison then made the best of a bad snap on their extra point and kicker Adam Keller scooped up the ball and lobbed a pass to lineman Mike Hardie in the back of the end zone for a 2-point conversion that stretched North Dakota State’s lead to 25-10 with 2:08 to go in the third quarter.
“Well, it looked like a disaster waiting to happen when it first started,” Bison coach Craig Bohl said. “We do work on a 2-point play when there’s an errant snap and quite frankly, it was not drawn up how we practiced it. I thought it was pretty resourceful by Adam Keller to take the ball.”
There wasn’t much the Bearkats could do the rest of the way to effectively cut into the deficit and make it interesting.
Sam Houston senior kicker Miguel Antonio booted a 32-yard field goal to inch the Kats within 12 at 25-13 in the early stages of the fourth.
North Dakota State drove the field again, thanks to a 26-yard run by Ojuri and a tricky halfback (jump) pass by John Crockett to Kevin Vaadeland that went for 26 yards.
Jensen capped the drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak, his third score of the day.
Bell and sophomore backup quarterback Chris Grett each were later intercepted as the Kats finished with four costly turnovers, which led to 21 points.
Part of the reason that the Bearkats gave up so many big plays in the second half is because they had to do without starting linebacker Jesse Beauchamp and All-American safety Darnell Taylor, who were injured in the first half and did not return to the game.
In the first half, Sam Houston had plenty of momentum due to the success of the passing game. The Bearkats moved the ball with ease against the stout Bison defense. Bell was able to hit Flanders and receivers Richard Sincere, Trey Diller and Torrance Williams for 151 yards off 10 completions.
“We felt good about the offense,” Sincere said. “We knew we just needed to play clean and play smart and we’d be successful.”
Penalties, though, wiped away any chance of the Bearkats scoring touchdowns. Twice in the first half, Sam Houston had runs that would have positioned the Kats around the Bison 10-yard line, but holding calls negated the yards gained on those plays by Sincere (28 yards) and Flanders (18).
Despite coming up empty-handed on those possessions, Sam Houston made a game of it just before halftime.
Trailing 10-3 after a 20-yard Jensen touchdown run, Bell and the Bearkat offense engineered a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard TD reception by tight end K.J. Williams to tie the game with 33 seconds to play in the second quarter.
Bison outscore SHSU 29-3 in second half, claim another national title
Sam Houston State hoped to make history and exorcise a few demons Saturday by winning a national championship.
BEARKAT FOOTBALL— Ready to rumble
At the end of the Sam Houston State football team’s first preseason practice Monday at Bowers Stadium, new head coach K.C. Keeler told his players that they “did O.K.” There were dropped passes, missed assignments and errant throws from starters and backups alike. But there were also incredible displays of athleticism, as well as a sense of urgency from players hoping to win a starting job.
The fate of Sam Houston’s season could rest on the arm of whoever emerges as the team’s starting quarterback. On Monday, sophomore Don King III played with the first team, but sophomore Jared Johnson and redshirt freshman John Roderique each saw a comparable number of reps.
BEARKAT FOOTBALL— Road to redemption
There were no footballs at the Sam Houston State football team’s first day of preseason camp. The team didn’t take the field, and the slew of questions facing the Bearkats this season remained unanswered.
Regardless, after losing by a point to Southeastern Louisiana in last season’s FCS playoffs, senior running back Keshawn Hill seized Sunday’s series of team meetings as an opportunity to begin taking the Bearkats back to national prominence.
BEARKAT FOOTBALL— Small named SHSU football operations coordinator
Jonathan Small has joined the Sam Houston State University athletic staff as football operations coordinator for Bearkat head coach K.C. Keeler’s program.
Small comes to Huntsville after heading up football operations for the Elon University Phoenix since May 2013 and the previous three seasons at The College of William and Mary.
BEARKATS FOOTBALL — Pondering the possibilities For 2014 season
It’s been 232 days since the Sam Houston State football team fell in gut-wrenching fashion to Southeastern Louisiana in last season’s FCS playoffs. Since then, change has been constant.
Willie Fritz is gone and K.C. Keeler is now attempting to lead the Bearkats to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Sam Houston will need to replace 13 starters from last year’s squad, including record-setting running back Timothy Flanders and the program’s all-time winningest quarterback Brian Bell.
Questions to be answered
Uncertainty isn’t always a precursor to unmitigated disaster. The Sam Houston State football team will enter the 2014 season with a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and a plethora of new faces competing for starting jobs that were vacated by players who helped lead the program to three consecutive playoff appearances.
The schedule is daunting, but it’s not out of the question for the Bearkats to go undefeated in conference play this fall. The roster is young and relatively inexperienced, but there are talented players on the depth chart who have not yet had an opportunity to showcase their skills. There are plenty of reasons to temper expectations for 2014, but also many reasons to hope the Bearkats can win the games they are supposed to win and find their way to the playoffs again.
Rodeo: Brazile looking for another championship
Trevor Brazile is attempting to earn a record 12th world all-around title on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit.
In the Windham Weaponry High Performance PRCA World Standings, he currently is ranked No. 1 in the all-around race with regular-season earnings of $149,420, $46,345 ahead of his brother-in-law, Tuf Cooper.
Brazile and Cooper are traveling partners. They hit the road together in late June while competing at the Reno Rodeo in Nevada, the PRCA’s first major summer event.
Justin Gilbert signs with Browns
A few days before of the start of training camp, former Huntsville Hornet Justin Gilbert officially became a member of the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday when he signed his first NFL contract.
Now that he’s got his contract with the Browns, he needs a starting job.
Another record for Derrick Ross
In his short career in the Arena Football League, Huntsville’s Derrick Ross has left his mark.
Playing in his fourth season in the league and his third with the Philadelphia Soul, Ross notched another record.
Along with being the all-time leading rusher, a mark he sat last year, Ross now also owns the record for most career rushing touchdowns after scoring three TDs on June 7.
BEARKATS FOOTBALL — Kats have something to prove
Bearkats running back Keshawn Hill has already won two Southland Conference championships, played in as many national championship games and made the playoffs in each of his three seasons at Sam Houston State.
The team is still four days away from its first practice of 2014, but the Bearkats senior running back already has a chip on his shoulder. Despite the program’s recent success, Sam Houston State was picked to finish third in the Southland.
Southland coaches have different takes on accepting transfer players
Show Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts the past and he says he’ll show you the future.
Before Roberts took the reins at Southeastern, the program had only managed one winning season since it was restarted in 2003 after a 17-year hiatus. In just his second season at the helm, Roberts brought the Lions into the national spotlight by leading his team to an undefeated Southland Conference record and a playoff victory over Sam Houston State, a national runner-up the previous two seasons. The Lions finished the season ranked sixth in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches final polls.
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