After riding late defensive stands to victory in their first three playoff games, the Sam Houston Bearkats leaned on their offense to secure the biggest win in program history on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Stadium.
With 16 seconds left and the Bearkats trailing by four, Eric Schmid squeezed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ife Adeyi between a trio of South Dakota State defenders to lift Sam Houston to a 23-21 victory – and the first FCS national championship in program history. The Sam Houston defense stopped the Jackrabbits (8-2) on their last-ditch effort to get into field goal range.
The Bearkats are the first school in Texas to win a national title at the FCS level. It is the first FCS title in school history after the Bearkats (10-0) lost in back-to-back title games in 2011 and 2012.
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Schmid was 20 for 37 passing with 209 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while adding 54 yards on the ground. Jequez Ezzard hauled in a season-high 10 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bearkats’ aerial attack, with no reception proving more important than his final one. Ife Adeyi had 73 yards on five catches, including the game-winning touchdown. Running back Ramon Jefferson just missed the century mark on the ground, rushing 16 times for 96 yards.
Ezzard, the graduate transfer from Howard, was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player – he kept his team’s championship hopes alive with a five-yard catch on fourth down in the final minute to set up the game-winning score. Schmid also picked up a fourth-down conversion with a nine-yard run during the Bearkats’ 16-play, 65-yard scoring drive that secured the victory.
Heavy rain resulted in five combined fumbles in the first 15 minutes, with lightning causing a 74-minute delay with 8:25 left in the second quarter. Sam Houston, which fell behind 7-0 in the opening minutes, tied the game before the break on a 35-yard touchdown reception by Ezzard early into the second quarter.
The Bearkats did not miss a beat once play resumed, with Ezzard tacking on another score just before halftime, and Seth Morgan drilling a career-long, 45-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 17-7. However, trailing by two scores with less than 14 minutes to go, the Jackrabbits – who lost their starting quarterback Mark Gronowski to a leg injury on the opening drive of the game – clawed their way back into the contest behind a dominant fourth quarter from freshman running back Isaiah Davis. Davis rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns, snapping the Bearkats’ streak of 20 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
Sunday’s win marked Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler’s 24th career FCS playoff victory, passing legendary Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel for the most all-time. Keeler, who won a national title at Delaware during the 2003 season, also becomes the first coach to win FCS championships at multiple schools.
Rob Butler is a lifelong Texas A&M football fan – his family is full of A&M graduates. He graduated from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas with two degrees – a BBA in Finance and an MBA. His hobbies include jogging and reading books pertaining to college football.