Sam Houston State feels the blow again
Second-half blunders send Bearkats home with familiar feeling
FRISCO, Texas – Anyone associated with Sam Houston State who enjoyed the colors green and yellow may not want to see either of them together for quite some time.
Green and yellow-clad North Dakota State beat the Bearkats for the second year in a row at the FCS Championship, this time pulling away in the second half for a 39-13 victory.
It wasn’t always the rout the final score indicates. It was a 10-10 game at halftime and much like in last season’s 16-7 edition, a couple plays here or there changed everything. And unfortunately for SHSU, the Bison dominated the second half just like they did in 2012, combining to outscore the Bearkats 49-3 after halftime in the two games.
A year ago, a perfectly executed fake punt and a long interception return setup the only two North Dakota State touchdowns. Those plays sent Sam Houston State players and coaches into a long few months of thinking about each of them. Players said they would be ready for anything that NDSU threw its way on Saturday, having learned all too well of what the Bison were capable of. SHSU head coach Willie Fritz recalled all week how he tried all year to forget about that fake punt.
It’s those types of plays that can eat away at your whole offseason -- and even longer. For Fritz and his Bearkats, they have some more plays to add to the hopper. A stretch of a little more than 11 minutes in the third quarter was choc-full of them.
“I thought we had some opportunities,” Fritz said. “The ball didn't bounce our way a couple times on some big plays. You've got to fight through that, and we didn't.”
It all began to unravel for the Bearkats only two minutes into, what would turn out to be, a nightmare of a second half. Running back Tim Flanders had just scampered 41 yards into the end zone for what looked like a go-ahead touchdown. But there was a flag. Holding on offensive lineman Donald Jackson brought it back, and on the next play Brian Bell threw an interception -- one of four picks thrown by SHSU.
“You're just not going to win with minus-4 [in turnovers],”Fritz said. “We didn't do a good job with it. They had some timely interceptions and we didn't get any takeaways. It's just hard to win. If it would have been zero, I think it would have been pretty close.”
Wide receiver Richard Sincere agreed.
“On our side, we've just got to be smarter and play harder,” Sincere said.
NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen -- the game’s most outstanding player -- followed the turnover by leading the Bison 60 yards in 10 plays to take a 17-10 lead, capping off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Jensen finished with three rushing scores.
Even then, the game still hung in the balance. But Sam Houston State’s call to go for a fourth-and-1 from NDSU’s 35-yard line failed with 4:49 left in the quarter. Bell was knocked woozy by lineman Kyle Emanuel as his pass fell harmlessly to the turf at FC Dallas Stadium.
A personal foul by the SHSU defense on NDSU’s following possession propelled another scoring drive, which even featured a 31-yard completion on a flea-flicker by Jensen to receiver Zach Vraa -- despite being terribly underthrown.
Sam Houston State then wasted its first timeout of the half because they had 12 men on the field. And then came the dagger. A two-yard touchdown run on fourth-down by Jensen that gave the Bison a two-score lead. The Bearkats couldn’t even catch a break on the ensuing NDSU point-after attempt.
A bad snap forced holder Ben LeCompte to pitch it back to the kicker, Adam Keller. Off his back foot, Keller threw a prayer into the end zone where defensive end Mike Hardie was there to answer the call for two points.
When it rains, it really does pour.
“It looked like a disaster waiting to happen when it first started,” North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl said. “We do work on a two-point play when there's an errant snap, but quite frankly, it was not drawn up how we practiced it. I thought it was pretty resourceful by Adam Keller to take the ball. I saw the ball in the air, and then I thought my goodness, is this a lineman who's caught it -- it was. Right when that happens, sometimes there are the plays that happen in the game when you think, you know what, this is probably going to be our day. A play that we had never planned or designed turned out to work extremely well.
It deflated the Bearkats. It was happening again. In slightly different fashion than last year’s championship tilt but they were still losing the game they had worked so hard to get back to for 365 days. Against the same opponent -- the one they so badly wanted another crack at. But it was slipping away. And that was all part of North Dakota State’s plan.
“At halftime they told us once we get back out there and get the ball, we're just going to take it and start pounding it like it worked all year long,” North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner said. “Once we get the ball in the second half and keep pounding the ball down the middle, eventually they start bending and breaking. And as you can see, things started moving and we broke a couple plays off, and then the next thing you know, the score ends up like it was.”
North Dakota State would score touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half, sending Sam Houston State into another offseason of long thought of what-ifs and left to wonder how they will get over the hump to win a national title.
One thought that will certainly be there for many: Too bad we had to see that green and yellow in Frisco, not once, but twice -- especially in the second half.