By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
HUNTSVILLE, TX. — It was billed as a shootout against Texas high school all-stars, but only one side’s guns were blazing.
Sam Houston State bowled over Montana State’s front seven for an eye-popping 428 yards rushing, cruising to a 21-6 halftime lead and coasting to a 49-13 wipeout of the Bobcats in front 9,077 fans at Bowers Stadium and in front of a live ESPN audience.
While Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz claimed earlier in the week that Montana State “didn’t really have any weaknesses,” it sure seemed like that wasn’t the case on Saturday.
“We just wanted to come out and start fast and find some kind of way to get a win so we can get to next week and get a chance to go 1-0 again,” said wideout Richard Sincere, who notched up 160 of those rushing yards on just 11 carries. “Going into halftime, we felt like we had the momentum, and when the third quarter comes, we come on strong.”
The top-seeded Bearkats (13-0) will host No. 4 Montana (11-2) on Friday night at 8 p.m. in a game that will be televised by ESPN.
After falling behind 3-0 after an early defensive stand, Bearkat quarterback Brian Bell took over on two first-half drives, connection with Grant Merritt for an 11 yard strike and a 54 yard run, cutting through Montana State’s front seven like a hot knife through butter, then using his speed to get the score.
He’d later connect with Sincere on another big play, a 40-yard strike.
Coming out of the gate in the third quarter, star Montana State quarterback and Texas native DeNarius McGhee cut the deficit to eight with an 11-play, 77-yard drive, capped by a seven-yard TD pass to Everett Gilbert.
But then the Bearkats would put the game out of reach, thanks to key plays on defense and special teams.
First came Brandon Closner’s kickoff return for a touchdown, where he would read the swirling wind and find the gap in the kick coverage, and surge through it to give the momentum right back to the Bearkats.
“We came out in the second half and really didn’t start on fire,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. “That kickoff return by Brandon Closner really got us going,”
The key was the way Closner attacked the kick return defense.
“He did a sensational job of taking it vertical,” Fritz said. “So many guys want to try to run east and west or away from stuff. We just try to get him to see that seam and not go east or west until you get through that first wave.”
Then Dax Swanson’s interception of McGhee would be catnip for the Bearkat’s offense, finishing off a seven-yard drive with a 1 yard run by Ryan Wilson to go up 35-13.
“We were determined,” Bearkats defensive end Andrew Weaver said.
“We all got together and basically we wanted it more than they did. We were determined to get it and we stopped them,”
That determination went on both sides of the ball.
“We just got together as an offense,” Sincere said. “We all talked about it amongst ourselves and we were going to find a way to get it done.”