By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
How were the Bearkats viewed in the preseason?
I did the Southland Conference preview for College Sporting News and thought that SHSU would repeat as SLC champions and just ahead of Central Arkansas. I felt with such a young team that won the SLC title and advanced to the national championship game last year that they would be able to repeat in 2012.
The preseason polls by the Southland Conference coaches and media had SHSU at the #1 position within the league. The Bearkats were a consolidated number one team coming into the season with the majority of the national polls predicting SHSU to be the top team in the country.
How did the Bearkats finish with an 8-3 record within the 2012 regular season?
The Bearkats played two FBS teams out of BCS conferences in Baylor and Texas A&M and predictably lost those two matchups on the road. In fact, the Bearkats only had three true home games in total this year.
SHSU did play two neutral site games against Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin.
The biggest conference game of the year was early in the season when SHSU lost to Central Arkansas on the road 24-20, which actually gave UCA the SLC automatic bid as the Bears and Bearkats finished tied atop the SLC standings.
Other than that game, SHSU dominated other SLC competition with the game at Houston’s Reliant Stadium against Stephen F. Austin being the only game within an eight point difference. SHSU defeated SFA 51-43.
The Sam Houston offense led the FCS nationally in scoring (46.2) and stands No. 5 in rushing (294.3) and No. 6 in total offense (490.3). The defense ranked third nationally in rushing defense (68.3) and fifth in total defense (283.2). The Bearkats led the Southland in rushing offense and defense, scoring and rushing defense.
The Bearkats produced 21 players who have earned spots on the all-SLC honor squad. Those awards include both "Player of the Year" recognition for running back Timothy Flanders and "Defensive Player of the Year" Darnell Taylor. Darnell and his twin brother Darius also become the first pair of twins at Sam Houston to earn all-conference recognition together.
The Bearkats' list of All-Southland players after an 8-3 overall regular season and 6-1 march to a second consecutive league title include 10 first team selections, six second team honorees and six honorable mention players.
First team offense All-Southland players from Sam Houston include Flanders, tight end T. J. Jones, offensive linemen Kaleb Hopson and Chris Rogers and all-purpose back Richard Sincere.
First team All-SLC defense Bearkats are defensive lineman J. T. Cleveland, linebacker Darius Taylor, defensive backs Darnell Taylor and Dax Swanson and punter Matt Foster.
Second team All-SLC members included quarterback Brian Bell, wide receiver Trey Diller, defensive lineman Gary Lorance and defensive backs Kenneth Jenkins and Bookie Sneed. Diller also received second team recognition as kick return specialist.
In comparing the 2011 and 2012 Bearkat teams, the biggest difference is in the passing game of quarterback Bell. He has thrown for 2460 yards and 24 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. The Bearkat offense is much more a dual threat than a season ago where SHSU was predominately a run team with an occasional pass.
The Bearkats, however, still employ the “Wild Bearkat” with Richard Sincere taking the snaps like they did last year and still have a similar dominate defense as they also did last year.
How did Sam Houston State win its opening round playoff game?
Following a bye, the unseeded Bearkats faced co-Big Sky champion Cal Poly in the second round game in Huntsville, which was the first game for each team in this year’s playoffs.
Place kicker Miguel Antonio kicked field goals of 20, 32 and 26 yards and running back Timothy Flanders rushed 17 times for 101 yards as edged Cal Poly for an 18-16 victory.
Quarterback Andre Broadous rushed for 54 yards and passed for 113 more to lead Cal Poly. The Mustangs cut the margin to two points on a 50-yard halfback reserve pass by Ryan Taylor to Willie Tucker with 1:34 to play.
Sam Houston's Trey Diller, however, recovered the on sides kick attempt and the Bearkats ran out the clock.
Keshawn Hill scored the game's only touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Brian Bell with 0:31 left in the third quarter to end a nine-play, 83-yard drive.
After trailing 8-0 at halftime after two Antonio field goals and a safety on a punt block by Vincent Dotson, Cal Poly scored on field goals of 23 and 27 by Bobby Zalud at the 9:34 and 3:88 mark in the third.
The Cal Poly defense limited Sam Houston to its lowest total offense of the season as the Bearkats gained 153 yards rushing and passed for 88 for a total of 241 yards.
Sam Houston's defense gave up 387 total yards but created three big turnovers including fumble recoveries by Kenneth Jenkins and Darnell Taylor, an interception by Robert Shaw and Dotson's punt block.
Flanders, with his 101 yards rushing, became the first back in 18 games to gain more than 100 yards against the Cal Poly defense. Chance Nelson led SHSU receiving with three catches for 38 points
Sam Houston State advanced to the quarterfinals to face #3 seeded Montana State on the road.
How did the Bearkats beat Montana State in the quarterfinal round?
Despite having to travel to a cold Bozeman, SHSU dominated the home standing Bobcats in a 34-16 victory.
The win marked the second year in a row the Bearkats have earned their semifinal berth with a victory over Montana State. Last year, Sam Houston won 49-13 in the quarterfinals in Huntsville. SHSU went on to win in the semifinals and reach the national finals in Frisco.
In this year's win over Montana State, the Bearkats again produced big plays on both offense and defense to advance.
Trey Diller caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Bell and Chance Nelson had scoring receptions of 16 and 45 yards. Bell completed 11 of 21 passes. The 254 yards marked his third highest passing total as the Bearkats' quarterback.
Nelson ended the game with five receptions for 89 yards. Diller had three catches for 104 yards.
Timothy Flanders led the Bearkat ground game, carrying 31 times for 106 yards. The performance is Flanders' 24th career 100-yard rushing game and his ninth during the 2012 season. Both marks are Sam Houston school records.
The Bearkats totaled 458 yards with 204 coming on the ground and 254 in the air.
The Sam Houston defense produced two turnovers and five quarterback sacks as the Kats limited Montana State to 72 yards rushing and 292 yards total offense.
Kenneth Jenkins picked off an interception, Andrew Weaver recovered a fumble. Weaver and Darius Taylor each accounted for two sacks and Gary Lorance picked up the fifth.
Sincere scored the game's first touchdown with a 12-yard run as the Bearkats went up 10-3 with 12:29 left in the second quarter. The tally completed an eight-play 79-yard drive. Diller got the drive started with a 21-yard reception. Flanders moved the ball to the Bobcat 24 with a 27-yard run. Bell hit Chance Nelson for 11 to the MSU 12 on a key third down play.
After a three-and-out by Montana State, the Bearkats struck quickly to go up 17-3 as Bell found Trey Diller open over the middle for a 56-yard scoring pass with 9:41 remaining the half to complete a four-play 68-yard drive.
Sam Houston closed out the half with a 12-play 74-yard drive that took 4:31 as Antonio kicked a 17-yard field to allow the Bearkats to take a 20-3 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Montana State went 75 yards in 11 plays to open the second half with touchdown. McGhee scored from the eight. After the extra point failed, the Bobcats had trimmed the lead to 20-9 with 9:10 to go in the third quarter.
Matt Foster pinned the Bobcats at their own three with a 35-yard punt. Three plays later, Dax Swanson forced a fumble recovered by Andrew Weaver. The Kats took one play to up their lead to 27-9 as Bell hit Chance Nelson in the right corner of the end zone for a 16-yard pass with 2:49 to play in the third.
Bell found Nelson wide open again for a 45-yard touchdown to put Sam Houston ahead 34-9 with 12:18 left in the final quarter. The scoring drive covered 74 yards in seven plays.
The Bearkats moved on to the semi-final round at second-seeded Eastern Washington.
How did SHSU defeat Eastern Washington in the semi-final round?
SHSU withstood a furious second half comeback attempt in a 45-42 Bearkat victory over second seeded Eastern Washington in their semi-final game.
Sam Houston led 35-0 at halftime, but quarterback Vernon Adams engineered an Eagle comeback as the Bearkats had to run out the clock on their final possession to earn a win by the margin of Miquel Antonio's 42-yard field goal.
Running back Timothy Flanders rushed 34 times for 231 yards. His most important run, however, was a five-yard gain on third and three with less than a minute left to allow the Bearkats to run out the clock.
The 231 yards was Flanders' second best rushing performance in his three year career. The junior with 25 100-yard rushing performances to his credit ran for 287 yards in last year's SHSU semifinal victory over Montana.
Richard Sincere added to Sam Houston's 399 yards, carrying 10 times for 69 yards. The two teams combined for 1,007 total offense yards and 87 points.
Adams completed 14 of 26 passes for 364 yards and six touchdowns, all the scores in the second half. Brandon Kaufman was on the receiving end of three of the scores, making nine catches for 215 yards.
Sam Houston picked off three EWU passes. Robert Shaw intercepted two, returning one for a touchdown. Dax Swanson's pick stopped a late EWU scoring threat and also set a new school record for career interceptions with 14.
The Bearkats also totaled six sacks, two by Jesse Beauchamp and one each by Darius Taylor, J. T. Cleveland, Preston Sanders and Jarrett Brown.
Bell put the game's first points on the board with a six-yard run to complete a nine-play, 64-yard scoring drive on Sam Houston's first possession of the game. The touchdown came with 7:34 left in the opening period. A 23-yard run by Flanders to the Eagle 15-yard line was a key play in the drive.
Robert Shaw put Sam Houston up 14-0, picking off a Kyle Padron pass and returning the interception 37 yards for a touchdown with 3:08 left in the first quarter. The interception was Shaw's sixth in his four-year career and the fourth steal he has returned for six points.
Eastern Washington drove to the Sam Houston 15-yard line but was forced to settle for a field goal attempt. Jimmy Pavel missed from 32 yards just 39 seconds into the second period.
Three plays later, on a third-and-two, Bell rolled left, kept on the quarterback option and dashed downed the left sideline for a 72-yard touchdown with 12:56 to play in the half. The run was Bell's longest as a Bearkat and the longest TD run for Sam Houston this season. Bell's previously long was a 54-yard score in the 2011 NCAA quarterfinals against Montana State.
Six minutes later Keshawn Hill took a pitch from Sincere around left end and dashed 15 yards into the end zone to put the Kats up 28-0 with 6:44 before intermission. The drive covered 48 yards in eight plays.
Shaw broke up a pass attempt on fourth down to give the ball to the Kats at the EWU 45. The Kats needed only three plays to score again, this time on a six-yard run by Sincere with 3:48 remaining in the second quarter. Flanders' 39-yard run to the six on the second play of the drive set up the score.
SHSU advanced to the national title game with this win for the second straight season to face last year’s opponent of North Dakota State.
What is the prior history of postseason play for Sam Houston State?
The Bearkats have made it to the FCS playoffs five previous times (1986, 1991, 2001, 2004, and 2011). The 2004 season was the best Division I performance prior to last season as SHSU reached the semi-final round.
SHSU moved to Division I starting in the 1986 season. The Bearkats were Division II from 1982 to 1985. Prior to that, SHSU was a member of the NAIA.
The best season the Bearkats had at any level was a co-championship in NAIA in 1964. SHSU defeated Findlay (OH) College on the road in the semifinal round of that association’s playoff, 32-21 and then tied Concordia (MN) College 7-7 in the championship game played in Augusta, Georgia.
The irony there is that Concordia is located in Moorhead, Minnesota which is basically a twin city with Fargo, North Dakota, the home of North Dakota State, who SHSU will play for their second chance ever in a national title game.
Ready for Frisco
The Bearkats have battled a very tough schedule with many on the road this season, and had to basically win the Big Sky Conference by playing three straight Big Sky teams to reach the championship game for a second straight season.
SHSU only lost four seniors with playing time from last year’s team so this year’s team is very experienced to get back to Frisco. Having been here before, the team should know what to expect with a national title game.
Going from a 6-5 team two years ago to the national championship game two years in a row is a feat that Coach Fritz, who is in his third season in Huntsville, has been nothing short of remarkable regardless of the outcome on January 5th.