Sam Houston State defeated South Dakota State 23-21 to complete a perfect season and National Championship win. After a long awaited FCS National Title game we finally have a winner to crown from this crazy season. The teams who made it to the playoffs suffered through opt outs, cancelled games, players going through numerous tests, players testing positive, and the burden of being a student as well during it all.
Many teams have something to be proud of from this season whether it be finishing the season, getting a ranked win, making playoffs, or even making the title game. Although, Sam Houston State has the biggest accomplishment of all by securing a national title after being a runner-up in 2011, 2012, and several other playoff runs shorter than Frisco. Bearkat Nation can finally call themselves National Champions after years of doubt and frustration in the playoffs.
The National Championship
It was a rough start for the Bearkats as they fumbled twice and South Dakota State scored a touchdown in the first quarter. Eric Schmid was pressured early and often as he would be brutalized all game long by the Jackrabbit defense. A fumble by Schmid on the mesh and a bad hike to punter Matt McRobert made for easy field position for South Dakota State early on.
Isaiah Davis, true freshmen running back, put on a career day that started with a gritty 20-yard run that was called out at the one yard line. This was no problem for him as he closed the distance on the next play to put the Jackrabbits on the board first. Davis stepped up tremendously throughout the game as star Freshmen quarterback Mark Gronowski went out of the game injured on the first drive.
Despite the fantastic field position South Dakota State was only able to produce one score in the first quarter. Sam Houston State’s front seven on defense pinned their ears back and attacked the run game with ferocity. The Bearkats refocused their efforts and made it a far more even rest of the quarter by attempting to regain the field position they gave away earlier. Shortly before the end of the quarter Jeqeuz had a flashy 50-yard kick return for a touchdown that was painfully called back due to Ysdir Mascorro receiving a block in the back penalty.
South Dakota State’s offense started to cool down in the second quarter as Pierre Strong’s production was limited and Keaton Heide could not connect as easily with his receivers. Schmid and the Bearkat offense took this opportunity to get Jequez Ezzard the ball so that he could show off how dangerous he is on offense. Ezzard caught a pass, made some fancy footwork cuts across the width of the field, and strode his way into the endzone for a 35-yard score. Admittedly on a quick replay the broadcast showed Ezzard struggling to control the ball. Whether or not the score should have counted was negated by a quick kick to solidify the seven point drive.
After an hour and eleven minute lightning delay the Bearkat resurgence continued with a solid performance on defense to keep the Jackrabbits from the endzone on the next drive. Pierre Strong fought tooth-and-nail for as many yards as he could muster to bring South Dakota State to the opposing 26-yard line. The field goal attempt went horribly wrong as the holder readjusted the ball just as Cole Frahm attempted the kick. South Dakota State missed their chance to score and would be shut out the rest of the quarter.
Sam Houston roared back to offer up Jequez Ezzard another opportunity to score. A nine play and 74 yard drive was capped off with a beautiful 15 yard catch by Ezzard for his second touchdown of the day. Heide made a valiant attempt to match the Bearkats drive, but was intercepted by Quinten Brown. Schmid tried his best to scamper 26 yards into field goal territory, but a holding penalty by Eleas Anderson negated that run. The teams went into an abbreviated halftime since the weather delay was so long.
The third quarter was a long drawn out war between the two teams as only three full drives were completed in fourteen minutes and thirty three seconds. Sam Houston’s first drive stalled out as Eric Schmid was struggling to make completions with his receivers and to stay upright in the pocket as well. South Dakota State’s first drive did not end ideally either as a fourth and two pass to Pierre Strong fell hopelessly to the ground.
A costly Jackrabbit miscue on fourth down gave the Bearkat defense much needed rest after a six minute drive. Scmid grew back into a rhythm passing and directing the offense as the team was able to flip the field position into a field goal opportunity. Unlike South Dakota State, Sam Houston State was able to capitalize on a 45-yard field goal conversion.
South Dakota State realized that this ten point deficit would only grow unless they were able to do something about it. Allowing the Bearkats to have a 17 point run of the scoreboard took the Jackrabbits from leading to bleeding real quick. A 23-yard pass to Zach Heins helped inspire some momentum to flow in the rest of the drive.
Isaiah Davis was a factor all game long, but he really came to life with a 26 and 28-yard rush that resulted in a touchdown. South Dakota State brought the score down to a three point game. This score would remain as the Bearkats were unable to navigate the Jackrabbit onslaught.
As Sam Houston State found themselves in a rut South Dakota State was brewing a comeback. Isaiah Davis made his mark on the game once again as he scampered for an electric 85-yard rushing touchdown filled with highlight reel stiff arms. Davis brought a clutch element to the game as the Jackrabbits now led 21-17.
Sam Houston faced themselves with yet another comeback opportunity against a Goliath opponent in the playoffs. A kick out of bounds penalty helped the drive start with some extra hope. Eric Schmid pulled off a gritty never-say-die performance as he passed, ran, and took nasty hits along the way to a first and goal scenario.
Schmid threw two questionable tosses towards his tight end that fell to the ground. Ife Adeyi was unable to make a huge difference throughout the game, but on third and goal he caught an absolute lazer from Schmid in the middle of the endzone in the middle of three defenders. The Bearkats were elated with joy despite missing the point after touchdown.
South Dakota State attempted to make a miraculous comeback with a solid kick return to the 38-yard line. In a vote of confidence to the offense the Jackrabbits tried two different hook-and-ladder plays that was not able to pan out. The game was over and Sam Houston State completed a fantastic comeback once again.
National Championship: Sam Houston State Bearkats
Most Outstanding Player: Jequez Ezzard
Most FCS Playoff Wins: KC Keeler
Sam Houston State completed one of the great playoff runs in playoff history as they survived: the Big South Champs (Monmouth) in the first round, comeback win over defending National Champs (North Dakota State), comeback win over #1 overall in the FCS Top 25 (James Madison), and a comeback win over #1 overall in the FCS Playoff Bracket (South Dakota State).
My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.