By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
NORFOLK, VA. — Montana State had waited an entire year for a rematch with Sam Houston State.
Be careful what you wish for.
The second meeting between the Bobcats and the Bearkats ended much like the first, with SHSU dominating No. 3-seeded MSU again for a 34-16 victory in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Football Championships from Bozeman, MT.
Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell hit 11-of-21 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns and receiver Trey Diller caught three passes for 104 yards as the Bearkats (10-3) exploited the Montana State secondary throughout the evening.
Diller hauled in a 56-yard TD toss from Bell to give SHSU a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, while Chance Nelson added scoring strikes of 16 and 45 yards in the second half as the Bearkats pulled away.
Last year, it had been the strong Sam Houston State running game that had thwarted the Bobcats (11-2) in Huntsville, TX. as SHSU won 49-13.
Sam Houston State will meet the winner of Saturday's game between host and No. 2 seed Eastern Washington and Illinois State in the semifinals next weekend.
After an evenly-played first quarter resulted in a 3-3 tie, the Bearkats erupted for 17 unanswered points in the second period to take control of the game.
Richard Sincere used strong blocking on a Wildcat formation run to give SHSU the first touchdown of the game just two-and-a-half minutes into the second stanza and a quick strike from Bell to Diller from 56 yards out as Diller turned around a Bobcat cornerback made it 17-3 less than three minutes later.
Sam Houston State had a chance to score another touchdown when it marched to the one-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half, but the Bearkats mismanaged the clock and had to settle for Miguel Antonio's second field goal of the half and went to the locker room ahead 20-3.
"We did a great job with clock management there, knowing we were going to get the ball back first to start the second half," Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz said. "I would've liked to get a touchdown there, but getting some points was good."
Montana State showed some brief life early in the third period when quarterback DeNarious McGhee (16-of-29, 220 yards passing, one TD, one interception) capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with an eight-yard scoring scamper.
But Rory Perez, who had scored on a 27-yard field goal late in the first period, shanked the extra point wide right to steal Montana State's momentum and left the score at 20-9.
Bobcat receiver Jon Ellis caught a pass deep in MSU territory later in the third period, but was stripped of the ball, with Andrew Weaver recovering at the 16.
SHSU scored a play later on a pass connection between Bell and Nelson.
“When we had the goal-line stand right before the half," Montana head coach Rod Ash said, "I think it gave us the idea that we could get this thing done and get back in the game. Our drive at the start of third quarter showed a lot of toughness, but then (Ellis’) fumble was just huge. That was unfortunate.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Bell hooking up with Nelson again from 45 yards out on a third-down conversion and Ellis grabbed a 12-yard, fourth-down slant at the goal line from McGhee for the Bobcats.
Tim Flanders reached 100 yards for the 24th time in his career and the ninth time this season, both SHSU records, but he needed 31 carries to do it.
The Bearkats piled up 458 yards of total offense and stymied the Bobcat offense, holding MSU to 72 yards rushing, while forcing two turnovers and five sacks.
Kenneth Jenkins intercepted a pass near the sideline and managed to get a foot down in bounds to set up the first Sam Houston State field goal.
“In the end, it came down to fundamentals,” Montana State QB DeNarius McGhee said. “The fundamentals of the quarterback position, the fundamentals at receiver, at O-line, at running back. That cost us. They did it better than we did, and we weren’t victorious in this situation.”
"Like coach Fritz said, we came in here, had a great week of practice and we were really focused on the plane ride up here," Bell said after the game. "Coach always tells us it's a business trip. We're not here to have fun. We're here to take care of business and get a win and get back home and move onto the next round. That's what we did tonight."