Bye, bye Bison: football moves on to FCS semifinals

Photo courtesy of Leila De La Cruz

The Sam Houston Bearkats came away with another narrow victory in the FCS playoffs against football rival North Dakota State University Bison. With the win, the Bearkats now move onto the semifinals round.

The Bearkats have had a long history against the Bison as the two foes have commonly faced each other in the playoffs. The Bison were undefeated in the playoffs against the Bearkats coming into today with a 4-0 record.

In their last matchup in 2017, the Bison defeated the Bearkats in crushing fashion with a 55-13 victory. Not only this, North Dakota State defeated the Bearkats in 2011 and 2012 in the FCS championship and have won the FCS championships every year since 2011 besides 2016. This was the first playoff victory over the Bison for Sam Houston.

The Bearkats struck first just as they did last week with a field goal just seven minutes into the game. The score was set up by redshirt junior defensive end Markel Perry forcing a fumble on the Bison’s opening drive, which was recovered by senior defensive back Jaylen Thomas.

“I think there is so much confidence when you make those plays,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “You know that’s the same thing last week we had to make a play at the end of the game. The last defensive play of the game, we had to make a play and I think all those experiences led us to this experience that we can make that play.”

Sam Houston’s defense would come up huge once again in the first quarter as game one hero junior cornerback Isaiah Downes would get his second interception of the postseason. This interception would set up the first touchdown of the game.

Junior running back and second-team all-Southland Conference player Ramon Jefferson scored a one-yard rushing touchdown to give the Bearkats a 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.

“Ramon Jefferson is just a beast,” Keeler said after the game. “And when you have a healthy Eric Schmid you have a chance against anyone you play.”

The second quarter of the game would be a boring one compared to the final two, as the only score in that period would be a safety for the Bison after a blocked punt. This would not be the first mistake from the special teams unit of Sam Houston.

The first half of the game would end with a missed 52-yard field goal from North Dakota State.

The Bearkats would come out in the second half with a bang as they would drive down the field and score on their opening possession when sophomore running back Noah Smith would score on a 23-yard pass over the middle of the field outrunning the Bison defense.

“He [offensive coordinator Ryan Carty] told me, I was deeply into the game plan, so I was preparing myself all throughout the week,” Smith said.

With all the momentum in the Bearkats favor, they would throw it all out the window by giving up a kick-off return touchdown just seconds after Smith’s score. Not only that, the Bearkats offense would go three-and-out and give up a touchdown on the ensuing punt return. The Bison would convert the two-point conversion and tie the game at 17.

To start the fourth quarter, the Bison would take their first lead of the game after a long drive that would lead to a field goal.

The following drive would be the best offensive charge the Bearkats had all day. Junior quarterback Eric Schmid would lead his team down into the red zone after a huge third-and-ten play where he would connect with sophomore wide receiver Ife Adeyi on a 47-yard completion that would put the Bearkats at the five-yard line.

Schmid would finish the drive himself with a rushing touchdown, showing his duality of passing and running.

“We have that with Eric,” Keeler said. “He can throw the ball so well on the run, he really can create so many plays.”

On the final drive of the game, the Bearkats defense would be put to the test. The Bison were able to take the ball all the way down to the red zone with under a minute to go. On third-and-two, the Bison freshman quarterback Cam Miller would fumble the ball and recover it himself to set up a fourth-and-six.

The Bearkats defense would bring the pressure and force an incompletion on fourth down to secure their victory.

The Bearkats will take on James Madison University next Saturday at Bowers Stadium in the FCS semifinals.

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