FRISCO, Texas — The FCS national championship game between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State features a couple of first-timers, programs that are in their first title game.
Still, it’s not like the coaches don’t have valuable experience.
NDSU’s Craig Bohl was the linebackers coach at Nebraska when the Cornhuskers won championships in 1995 and ’97. The Bearkats’ Willie Fritz won his second national championship in a row in ’95 as the head coach at Blinn (Texas) Junior College. He also won the 1990 JUCO championship as the defensive coordinator at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
Bohl and Fritz will coach against each other for the first time on Jan. 7 in the championship game between top-seeded Sam Houston (14-0) and the No. 2-seed Bison (13-1). Both said Wednesday that their teams have made it this far not because of computer rankings but by working their way through a 20-team playoff field.
“If I was in the FBS and had an undefeated team that ended up second or third because we didn’t get into the championship game, I’d be upset,” Fritz said. “Here, it’s survival of the fittest.”
Having coached in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Bohl said he liked having a shot at winning a title strictly on the field.
“In the other system, to get into the championship you’re looking to see how many points you’re going to win by and how you’re ranked for the opportunity to be 1 vs. 2,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s real fair for the student-athletes. Here, if you win, you advance. All I can say is it works.”
The game is expected to be sold out and both coaches said they expect plenty of offense.
“You’re going to see two really explosive offenses, even though we’re defensive-minded coaches,” Bohl said. “Both times we have played Sam Houston State have been phenomenal football games that have come down to the last series.”
Those games were in 2007 and ’09, when Fritz was the head coach at Central Missouri. North Dakota State won the first meeting 41-38 and Sam Houston State took the second 48-45, both of them thrillers.
“Nobody could stop each other,” Bohl said. “I don’t think that will happen in this game.”
NDSU leads the FCS in scoring defense, yielding just 13.2 points per game. The Bearkats lead in rushing defense, allowing just 69.9 yards, and Bohl called it the best Sam Houston State team he has seen.
“We were 6-5 last year,” Fritz said. “I talked to our kids about skipping a rung in the ladder and going from an average team to a great team. The kids have done a great job.”
How did they accomplish that?
“One thing is that we have the second-toughest [academic] requirements of any scholarship program in Texas, behind Rice. So we’re dealing with smart kids,” he said. “We have good coaches who implement our plan, and the kids go out and do it.”
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