For all but three games of the 2012 campaign, the Bearkats have had to load up their equipment and hop aboard team buses in order to get to where they’re playing next.
Now in the national semifinals and being one of the final three teams still alive in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, there’s more of the same for the fifth-ranked Bearkats.
With only one game separating Sam Houston from a return trip to Frisco for the FCS national championship game, it’s only fitting that the Bearkats will have to go into enemy territory in order to get it done.
Having played in nine games away from Bowers Stadium, including eight as true road games, the Bearkats will be playing far from home again today as they’ll take on second-seeded Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash., this afternoon at 3.
“We’ve just got to go out there and play hard,” Sam Houston running back Timothy Flanders said Thursday following the Kats’ final practice. “It’s another road trip, another business trip. We’ve done a tremendous job with our focus. We’re just one game away from being where we were last year.”
Whether it’s been at a rowdy Kyle Field in College Station, Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco or even at an amped Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont., which was the case last week in the FCS quarterfinals, the Bearkats have become all too familiar with running out of the visitors’ locker room to hostilities from the home crowd.
In last week’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 3 seed Montana State, the Kats dealt with heckling as they were going through their warmups as well as having snowballs thrown their way.
“It’s a very exciting feeling coming out of the locker room,” Sam Houston senior defensive tackle J.T. Cleveland said. “Everybody is screaming against you. You’ve got the guys in the locker room and that’s it. It’s basically us against the world.
“It kind of pumps us up. It puts us in the right mind-frame that it’s not going to be easy. We have a whole stadium cheering against us, so we have to give it everything we have.”
With snow in and around Cheney today, the Bearkats may get another round of snowballs, but that’s what they expect with so much on the line.
For a second straight week, Sam Houston will have to battle the elements as temperatures are forecasted to be in the 30s with a chance of snow. That’s what the Kats dealt with last week in Bozeman, Mont., when they handily beat the Bobcats 34-16 to advance to today’s semifinal.
“I don’t think it will be as cold, just for the fact that it’s a day game, compared to what it was in Montana,” Flanders said. “Being in the cold, we had heaters and everything. It didn’t even seem like it affected us.”
Traveling and winning big is nothing new to these Bearkats. Over the past two seasons, the Kats have won an impressive 10 games out of 14 trips away from Bowers Stadium. During that span, the only losses were to North Dakota State in last January’s FCS national championship game, a 24-20 loss to Central Arkansas on the Bears’ purple-and-gray colored turf as well as bowl-bound Baylor and Texas A&M.
“That’s one thing that coach (Willie Fritz) preaches all the time, that we’ve got to win on the road if we want to be a great team,” Cleveland said. “That’s what we’ve been striving to do this year. We want to be road warriors.”
With just one more victory separating the Kats from another trip to the national championship game, they plan on doing the same things that got them to this point and insist that even on the road, where they’ve gotten comfortable playing, they be won’t deterred.
“We know it’s one more game. All we’ve got to get through is one more game and we can get a long break (three weeks) before the national championship,” Flanders said. “We just have to go out there and maintain our focus.
“We work with the crowd noise (over the speakers during practice), so we should be used to all of the fans being out there. I know they’re going to pack the house because they’re in the same boat we are, just like North Dakota State and Georgia Southern. We just have to go out there and play our game.”