Sam Houston hits the road again for a semifinal matchup with No. 2 seed Eastern Washington.
The Big Sky Co-Champions defeated Illinois State 51-35 Saturday to advance to the semis. This postseason the Bearkats have already defeated Cal Poly and Montana State who EWU shared the Big Sky title with.
Transfer quarterback Kyle Padron has put up impressive numbers in just his first season with Eastern Washington. The former SMU starter has thrown for 2,374 yards and 17 touchdowns. Six of his touchdown passes were recorded last week in the quarterfinal win.
Padron's favorite target is Brandon Kaufman. The 6'5 junior wide receiver has 84 catches for 1,635 yards and 13 touchdowns. On Saturday, Kaufman had nine catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns. That was his tenth 100-yard receiving performance of the season and 18th in his career.
"We played some teams that throw the ball a lot but Eastern Washington does it a little differently," head coach Willie Fritz said. "They have some very tall and talented receivers but they also do a nice job of running the football. They are very balanced."
The Eagles have also used a second quarterback at times this season. Vernon Adams has played in 11 games and thrown for 1,597 yards and 14 touchdowns. Adams has also run for 316 yards and a touchdown.
In the running game, Eastern Washington uses several backs to get the job done. Quincy Forte and Demitrius Bronson each have over 450 yards rushing this season. Bronson however has 11 touchdowns to Forte's two. Jordan Talley has also added 218 rushing yards and three TDs.
The Eastern Washington defense is led by linebacker Ronnie Hamlin. The junior has 127 total tackles, including ten for losses, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Eagles' sack leader is Jerry Ceja with 12.
"Eastern Washington is a very talented football team and they're very well coached," Fritz said. "They've got a very quick team and they do a good job of not getting out of position and they tackle well."
Last week's quarterfinal game was a back and forth high-scoring affair. Illinois State took a 17-10 lead over Eastern Washington in the second quarter before the Eagles woke up. EWU rattled off 28 unanswered points to go up 38-17. Then the Red Birds rallied to get back within three points. In the end, Eastern finished off Illinois State to win it 51-35.
In their second round game, Eastern Washington won a lower scoring game over Wagner. EWU trailed 19-14 near the end of the third quarter after Wagner had kicked their fourth field goal of the game. The Eagles scored touchdowns on the final play of the third quarter and near the end of the fourth to win 29-19.
Sam Houston and Eastern Washington's only previous meeting was in the quarterfinals of the 2004 FCS Playoffs. Sam Houston was down 34-14 in the fourth quarter and rallied to win the game 35-34.
Down six points with 43 seconds left, the Kats blocked a field goal and quarterback Dustin Long led the team down the field. The drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Jason Mathenia who finished the day with 13 catches for 226 yards. Lance Garner kicked the winning PAT with no time left on the clock.
Kickoff for the Bearkats and Eagles is Saturday 3 p.m., Central time, and will be televised on ESPNU.