Sam Houston State Game Notes vs Eastern Washington

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The Sports Network, the premiere national FCS news outlet, has labeled Saturday’s Sam Houston versus Eastern Washington showdown as the 2013 FCS non-conference "Game of the Year."

The Eagles won the 2010 FCS national championship. The Bearkats have been FCS national finalists each of the past two years. In Cheney, Wash. last December, Sam Houston defeated EWU 45-42 to advance to the national championship game. The two teams combined for 1,007 total offense yards and 87 points in their semifinal match-up. The pair both rank among the top five FCS programs in the country with Eastern Washington at No. 2 and SHSU at No. 4.

Sam Houston and Eastern Washington are meeting in a regular season football game for the first time. Their two previous contests came in unforgettable FCS playoff thrillers, both in Cheney. In the 2004 quarterfinals, Sam Houston came from 20 points behind in the final 14 minutes to win 35-34.

With no time outs and 43 seconds to play, quarterback Dustin Long engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive to score the game-tying touchdown. Long hit Jason Mathenia for a 7-yard TD with no time left on the clock. Lance Garner kicked the game-winning extra point.

Long passed for 478 yards and three TDs. Mathenia caught a school record 13 passes for 226 yards.

Last year’s semifinal meeting of the Kats and the Eagles was equally fantastic. Sam Houston jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead, then had to hold off a determined Eastern Washington offense that bounced back for 42 second half points.

Dax Swanson’s 14th school record career interception stopped a late drive. Timothy Flanders, who rushed for 231 yards, picked up a first down on third-and-three at the EWU 21 to allow the Kats to run out the clock.

The Kats own a 17-game home winning streak at Bowers Stadium, the longest in school history and, currently, in FCS. The streak started with a win over Texas State after losing to McNeese in 2010.

Saturday is the 27th time Sam Houston and its opponent both have come into the contest FCS nationally ranked. The Bearkats are 15-11 overall and 9-1 at Bowers in those games. The loss was to McNeese in 1991 by a 20-19 margin. Overall, SHSU owns seven wins over Top 5 FCS ranked foes. Five of those victories came at Bowers including a win over No. 1 Montana by an unranked Bearkat team in 2004. The Kats cracked the polls the next week at No. 24 and ended the year No. 3 in the final rankings.

The Bearkats stand 11-8 against teams currently in the Big Sky Conference. Sam Houston is 7-2 in games against the Big Sky in Huntsville at Bowers Stadium. SHSU owns a five-game winning streak against the Big Sky with NCAA playoff wins over Montana State and Montana in 2011 and Cal Poly, Montana State and Eastern Washington in 2012.

The Bearkats stand No. 4 in both the current 2013 Sports Network and NCAA Coaches polls. Sam Houston has finished each of the past two seasons No. 2 in the final rankings in both polls. The Bearkats have been ranked among the FCS top 25 for 28 consecutive weeks. The team debuted in the national poll Sept. 9, 2011. During an 11-0 regular season in 2011, the Kats rose to No. 1 at the end of the regular season. SHSU has ranked among the FCS top 10 for 24 consecutive polls.

Sam Houston is seeking to become only the fifth team in Southland Conference history to earn league championships three years in a row. Lamar (1964-65-66), Arkansas State (1968-69-70), Louisiana Tech (1971-72-73-74) and McNeese (2001-02-03) are the only teams to pull off the feat in the Southland’s 50 years of football. SHSU won in 2011 title with a 7-0 record and in 2012 with a 6-1 slate. The Bearkats have five Southland titles overall in their 26 years in the legue. SHSU also won championships in 1991, 2001 and 2004.

Sam Houston State is one of only eight football programs to appear in consecutive NCAA Division I Football Championship Games. The list of seven other universities reaching the finals in back-to-back seasons during the tournament’s 34-year history includes Eastern Kentucky, Georgia Southern, Youngstown State, Marshall, Montana, Appalachian State and North Dakota State.

Walter Payton Award candidate Timothy Flanders earned leagueoffensive honors after scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 170 yards against Texas A&M. Flanders’ total was the most by any player against the Aggies in 42 games (since Colt McCoy of Texas in 2009). Linebacker Tanner Brock received the league’s weekly defensive honor after leading the team in tackles and posting two sacks in the victory over Texas Southern.

All-America running back, Walter Payton Award candidate and two-time Southland "Player of the Year" Timothy Flanders holds 31 Sam Houston school records and eight Southland Conference marks. The Midwest City, Okla., product stands as the all-time leading rusher for both the Southland Conference and Sam Houston State. He has rushed 820 times for 4,720 yards and 59 touchdowns. He will add a ninth Southland mark on his third carry against EWU Saturday, passing Claude Mathis of Southwest Texas for most career rushing attempts (822 in 1994-97).

Flanders also owns the league’s career marks for rushing TDs (59), total touchdowns (63) and points (378). He stands as the FCS active career rushing leader and is 280 yards away from becoming the 22nd FCS back to total 5,000 career yards on the ground. His 59 rushing TDs rank 14th in the all-time FCS record book. The running back has posted 28 100-yard rushing performances during his Sam Houston career.

An amazing apspect of Flanders’ career marks is the large amount of games where he has given way to his backups with the contest’s outcome already in hand. Flanders has not had a carry in the final quarter in 14 of the Kats’ last 33 games. In his three-year career, he has sat for a total of 24 quarters, the equivalent of six games.

When Flanders has played in the fourth quarter of close games, he has been very effective. His impressive final period performances in victories include 9-for-67 at New Mexico, 10-for-60 vs. Stony Brook and 9-for-82 in the semifinals with Montana in 2011. In the 2012 semis at Eastern Washington, Flanders was 10-for-69 in the fourth.

Brian Bell is Sam Houston’s all-time winningest quarterback, leading SHSU to 32 victories in 42 starts since 2010. The senior from China Spring is the program’s all-time leader in passing and total offense with 6,798 yards in the air and 7,791 yards rushing and passing combined. Bell’s 62 career touchdown passes also is an SHSU school mark.

Bell is three yards away from becoming only the second quarterback in school history to gain 1,000 career yards rushing. The first was David Kubiak (1,528 in 1967-70). Bell will be the 32nd member of the SHSU 1,000-yard rushing club. Bell is 202 yards away from becoming the 12th quarterback in Southland Conference history to throw for 7,000 or more career yards.

Richard Sincere set two career milestones last Saturday vs. UIW and is within striking distance of another. The senior wide receiver, who runs the "Wild Bearkat" and returns kicks for SHSU, is yards the eighth Sam Houston player to roll up 3,000 or more all-purpose yards. His combined career total for rushing, receiving and returns is 3,072.

The Galveston Ball product is one of only two Bearkats to gain more than 1,000 yards in a career both rushing and receiving. He has totaled 1,958 rushing yards and 1,002 receiving. Tony January gained 2,376 yards rushing and 1,328 yards receiving in 1978-82. The Galveston Ball product is 42 yards away from becoming the 10th Bearkat back to rush for 2,000 or more yards. His current rushing total is 1,958 yards.

Torrance Williams became the 22nd member of the 1,000-yard career receiving club at Sam Houston Saturday. His four-year total now stands at 71 catches for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns. The speedy Waco Connally product has totaled 1,791 all-purpose yards in his career. Williams leads the Southland Conference in punt returns and ranks fourth in pass receiving. He has returned 10 punts for 209 yards with a long return of 50 yards. Williams has 15 catches for 286 yards and five touchdowns this year.

Wide receiver Chance Nelson became a deep threat for the Kats as a freshman in 2012 after transferring from Texas A&M. He caught 35 passes for 671 yards and nine TDs last year including a 70-yard strike against Southeastern Louisiana and a 61-yard TD at Texas Southern. This season Nelson has caught six passes for 99 yards, an average of 16.5 yards per reception. He has scored one touchdown.

The biggest offensive question mark coming into the 2013 season was in the offensive line where sophomore Donald Jackson III and senior Matt Boyles were the only returning veterans with starting experience. The young line has surrendered only one sack (a two-yard loss against A&M) in four games and paving the way for an offense that is averaging 467.0 yards per contest.

Sam Houston’s defense has ranked as one of the best in FCS the past two years, leading the nation in rushing defense in 2011 and ranking 16th nationally in turnover margin last year. But the Bearkats had to replace six All-Southland performers including the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Darnell Taylor. The defense has responded to the challenge, producing eight turnovers in four games (five interceptions and three fumble recoveries).

Cornerback Bookie Sneed snapped a Sam Houston record that had stood since 1968 with his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter of the 2012 SFA victory. Paul Wenzel returned an interception 90 yards against Sul Ross for the Kat mark that stood for 44 years. Sneed picked off four interceptions last year and eight in his career. He is tied for eighth in career interceptions at SHSU.

Seniors Eric Fieilo and Tanner Brock lead the team in tackles. Fieilo has 28 stops including two for losses. He picked off a Johnny Manziel pass for an interception in the A&M game. Brock, a transfer from TCU, has 25 stops this year including two sacks against Texas Southern.

Andrew Weaver was selected to the Associated Press FCS All-America third team in 2012. He was an All-Southland second team honoree as well. Weaver had two sacks at Montana State and one in the NCAA title game. In 2011, he returned an interception for 23 yards in the SFA win. This season the transfer from Texas A&M leads the Bearkats with four sacks.

Tickets for Saturday's SHSU-EWU showdown are available now online at or at the SHSU athletic ticket office. The ticket office is located in the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729.

The West Side Bowers Stadium ticket office will open at 10 a.m. on game day Saturday. Bearkat Alley tailgate begins at 12 noon and gates open at 12:30 p.m.

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