Kats knock off NDSU in FCS playoffs

Sam Houston State Football
Sam Houston State Football(KBTX)
Published: May. 2, 2021 at 6:38 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE — The Bearkats finally ran down the Bison. 

Sam Houston scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than four minutes to go in the game and came up with a crucial fourth-down stop to snap a four-game losing streak to North Dakota State with a 24-20 victory at Bowers Stadium in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs on Sunday. The Bearkats (8-0) will host either James Madison or North Dakota in the semifinals on May 8. Sam Houston is now 15-0 in home playoff games. The Kats lost back-to-back national championship games to the Bison (7-3) in 2011 and 2012 and in the semifinals in 2014 and 2017, but this time, Sam Houston was due. 

NDSU took its first lead of the game on a 20-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in a 33-yard field goal with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Sam Houston wasted no time answering. Quarterback Eric Schmid found running back Noah Smith, who finished with a career high 10 catches for 103 yards, for an 11-yard reception and Chandler Harvin for 10 more yards to get the ensuing drive rolling. One of the key moments of the game came a few plays later when wideout Ife Adeyi reeled in a pass from Schmid for 47 yards down to the NDSU 5. Schmid sent the crowd into a frenzy when we ran it into the end zone from 6 yards out, and Seth Morgan drilled the extra point attempt through the uprights to put the Kats up 24-20 with 3:39 remaining on the clock. 

The Bison made it interesting in the end. A defensive pass interference penalty and a 22-yard run by Dominic Gonnella put the ball deep in Sam Houston territory, but the Bearkat defense, which gave up only three points, made the plays to seal the victory by forcing a turnover on downs with 29 seconds left. 

A week after North Dakota State rushed for 422 in its opening round victory over Eastern Washington, Sam Houston held the Bison to 139 yards on the ground. NDSU scored 17 points on special teams. 

Sam Houston rolled the dice to take a 17-2 lead to begin the third quarter. After a couple of eight-yard runs by Jefferson and Schmid and an 11-yard reception by Smith, the Kats faced a fourth and 1 at the NDSU 36. Schmid, who threw for 227 yards, found Smith again for 11 more yards and three plays later, the two connected again for a 23-yard touchdown. 

The Bison answered right back when Christian Watson returned the kickoff 94 yards for a score to cut Sam Houston’s lead to 17-9. The Bearkats went three and out on the following possession, and once again a special teams collapse led to NDSU tying the game when Braylon Henderson returned the punt 76 yards for a touchdown and the Bison tacked on the two-point conversion. A pair of North Dakota State turnovers helped the Bearkats take a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter. Defensive back Isaiah Downes, who preserved Sam Houston’s 21-15 win over Monmouth in the opening round of the playoffs with an interception in the end zone in the final seconds, came up with another key play when he leaped to pick off a pass by Bison quarterback Cam Miller at the Bison 36 at the 4:37 mark. 

Schmid found Ezzard for a 15-yard gain to start the ensuing drive and running back Noah Smith hauled in a pass for another 10 two plays later to get the ball down to the NDSU 2. Two plays later, running back Ramon Jefferson punched it in from one yard out as SHSU went up 10-0. 

The Bearkats made the first big play of the game three minutes into the first quarter. Bison quarterback Cam Miller found tight end Josh Babicz for 12 yards to the 50, but linebacker Markel forced a fumble and defensive back Jaylen Thomas recovered at the SHSU 46. Sam Houston converted a big fourth down play when Schmid found a wide open Ezzard on the left-side line for 20 yards down to the NDSU 4. The drive stalled, however, and the Kats settled for a 24-yard field goal by Seth Morgan to take an early 3-0 lead. 

The victory moved Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler into a tie for second all-time in playoff wins at 22 with former Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore.This is the second time since 2010 North Dakota State, the reigning national championships, have lost at least three games in a season. The Bearkats also topped the Bison 48-45 that year at Bowers Stadium.

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