The No. 4 Bearkats’ reign over Big Sky opponents will climax this weekend as the Eastern Washington Eagles fly into Huntsville hunting for redemption at Bowers Stadium.
The Bearkats’ defense will target Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams because of his dual-threat, Manziel-esque capability in the backfield.
Sam Houston State held off the Eagle offense in the second half of the 2012 semi-finals matchup in Spokane, Wash. Adams connected six 20-plus yard touchdown passes against the SHSU secondary – countering his feeble performance in the first half.
The Bearkats scraped through with a late fourth-quarter field goal from Miguel Antonio to edge a 45-42 win and their second consecutive national title appearance.
Adams told The Sports Network he wants to settle the score with SHSU during Saturday’s matchup after leaving empty-handed in the playoffs.
“It was top three of my favorite games playing ever,” Adams said. “I just hope we can work hard enough this week andàbeat those guys and continue to go to our Big Sky and national championship run.”
Revenge has been a factor approaching week five, and EWU head coach Beau Baldwin said pride is on the line.
In an interview with EWU athletics, Baldwin said the Eagle’s call for revenge is nothing but human nature for his players wanting another chance.
“There is a different feel to this game for us because of the tough loss we had to [SHSU] in the semifinals,” Baldwin said. “To Sam Houston State’s credit, they did a great job against us, they had a great team and they do again this year.”
Despite pre-game hype, SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said previous victories are meaningless.
“If you look back on past failures or past successes you’re not going to be successful,” he said.
A Bearkat success will lie on the shoulder pads of the defense.
SHSU’s week two matchup against Texas A&M exposed the young secondary to a dynamic presence under center with Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel. Headed by linebackers Eric Fieilo and Tanner Brock, the Bearkats’ toxic defensive rush has made opponents’ run schemes irrelevant.
Adams’ rushing against the Bearkats was absent in the semi-finals, scrounging a mere 26 rushing yards. However, he completed 364 passing yards against a veteran secondary; a trend SHSU’s young defensive backs have inherited.
“We’ve had a lot busts and didn’t work the field at all,” Fritz said. “The big thing for us is we have to be assignment sound.”
Although defensive coverage remained shaky through week four, Fritz’s defense has made incremental improvements. Fritz said big game experience from team leaders will continue to progress his squad’s gameplay.
“We just have a lot of guys that have played in a lot of big games so that’s comforting for me as a coach to have 30 to 40 guys that have been in big games,” he said.
Saturday’s matchup will conclude SHSU’s pre-conference season before squaring off against Lamar University for homecoming on Oct. 12.
Kickoff against EWU will be starting at 2 p.m. at Bowers Stadium.