Bozeman, Montana – Quarterback Brian Bell passed for 254 yards and three touchdowns to lead No. 5- ranked Sam Houston State to a 34-16 victory over No. 2 Montana State Friday night.
The victory puts the Bearkats in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Football Championships against the winner of Saturday’s Eastern Washington versus Illinois State contest in Cheney, Wash.
Sam Houston upped its season record to 10-3 while Montana State falls to 11-2.
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 career100-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 sackes and Gary Lorance picked up the fifth.
Jenkins’ interception at the Montana State 49-yard line set up Miguel Antonio’s 24-yard field goal eight-and-a-half minutes into the game. Bell hit Sincere for a 38-yard pass to the MSU four-yard line for the long strike in the six-play, 42-yard drive.
The Bobcats responded with a 10-play 62-yard drive for a 27-yard field goal by Rory Perez with 49 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. A 33-yard run by McGhee to the Bearkat 11-yard line set up the scoring play.
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.
McGhee led the Bobcats on a six-play 91-yard drive, hitting Jon Ellis for a 12-yard touchdown with 5:25 remaining, cutting the SHSU margin to 34-16.