The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

December 11, 2012

BEARKAT FOOTBALL — Is a clean sweep over the three Big Sky Conference champs in the cards for Sam Houston?

Kats face Big Sky Conference co-champion for third consecutive week with trip to FCS national championship game on the line

By Gene Schallenberg
Assistant Sports Editor

HUNTSVILLE — Over the last two seasons, the Bearkats have seen a lot of the Big Sky Conference.

Last fall, Sam Houston beat Montana State and then Montana to reach the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game. Just this month, the Kats outlasted Cal Poly in the second round of the FCS playoffs on Dec. 1 and then cruised past Montana State in the quarterfinals last Friday night.

Up next is another team from the Big Sky, the second-seeded Eagles of Eastern Washington, which is the only team left that can keep Sam Houston from returning to Frisco to play for a national championship.

“I know it’s going to be a good ballgame,” Bearkats senior safety Mike Littleton said. “The two teams we played (from the Big Sky in the playoffs) were good teams. We just had a few bigger plays than those guys. We know we’ve got to do the same this week.

“It’d be good to beat all three teams. They’re all good competitors. It’d be good to beat all three of them.”

Not only were the Kats (10-3 overall) able to beat a pair of teams from the Big Sky, but both Cal Poly and Montana State claimed a share of the league’s conference championship. Like the Mustangs and the Bobcats, Eastern Washington (11-2) also won a share of the Big Sky Conference title, which was split three ways.

“Everybody playing right now’s good,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said following Monday evening’s short practice. “They all won a bunch of games, they’re well-coached, so you got the best of the best playing against each other. That’s the great thing about having a tournament.

“The Big Sky is a quality league and Eastern Washington is a very, very, very good team. It’s kind of interesting that we’ll be playing them (in the regular season) the next two years, too.”

The Kats come from what is perceived as a weak FCS conference, while the Big Sky has a claim as being one of the strongest, along with the Colonial Athletic Association, Southern Conference and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Sam Houston, however, is 4-0 against those teams that hail from the northwestern part of the country.

With a spot in the FCS national championship game on the line, the Bearkats look forward to increasing that winning streak to five games.

“I know a lot of people say that their conference is a lot tougher than our conference,” Littleton said. “It’s a big challenge to go and beat all three top teams like that, knowing that they say their conference is one of the best conferences. That would be a big accomplishment.”

Of the four teams that are still alive in the playoffs (No. 1 seed North Dakota State, second-seeded Eastern Washington, No. 5 seed Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State), the Bearkats are the only one which wasn’t seeded and have needed a complete team effort to fight their way back to the semifinals and position themselves for a chance to play for the national title.

“We do a great job of preparation. Our coaches, I think, do a great job with game plans,” Fritz added. “When you have success, it’s a lot of people involved with it. Our trainers do a great job. Our strength and conditioning program, our managers, our coaches and players believe in what we’re doing and they really do a good job in their preparation.

“Last week, we went up there (to Bozeman, Mont.) and the guys were very business-like in their approach to the game and that’s what you got to have.”