Eagles' huge rally falls just short in semifinals
Quarterback Brian Bell ran for two touchdowns and threw for another and Sam Houston State raced to a 35-0 halftime lead but barely held on to beat the second-seeded Eagles 45-42.
CHENEY — Apparently the road to Frisco has a fast lane, and Sam Houston State rode it halfway home before Eastern Washington even found the keys.
The Bearkats rolled up a five-touchdown lead that Eastern couldn't overcome even with its best 30 minutes of the season, ensuring a second straight trip to the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, and leaving the Eagles holding onto a few consolation prizes they probably won't appreciate for a while.
"We are not into any moral victories no matter who we are playing," Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said after a 45-42 loss that cost the Eagles a second title-game appearance in three years.
"But I told our guys in the locker room I was really, really proud to be where we were at 35-0 ... their attitude coming out of halftime and to stay together."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Vernon Adams came off the bench and threw six touchdown passes. Eagles wide receiver Brandon Kaufman caught nine passes for three touchdowns and 215 yards and set the FCS season record for receiving yards with 1,850. In three playoff games, Kaufman caught 28 balls for 600 yards and six touchdowns.
But the Bearkats (11-3), who gained 418 yards rushing and 503 overall, were able to run out the final three minutes of the game. They now get a chance to avenge last year's title-game loss to North Dakota State.
The Eagles (11-3) faced adversity all season, winning six of nine games decided by a touchdown or less. Double-digit holes had been surmounted all season, but nothing like the 35-point trench they fell into against the best offense they've faced this year.
"More than anything, (I told them) take it one play at a time," Baldwin said. "I know that is cliché, but it's true. If you read the scoreboard it can look too overwhelming, but if you focus on a play and a drive (it's manageable). We said if we could get a score, and then another score, we can creep back into this game."
In the first 30 minutes, Sam Houston ran for 285 yards on just 31 carries, while its aggressive man-to-man defense held Eastern's passing game to nine completions in 23 attempts.
"We were clicking on all cylinders offensively," Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. "When teams don't have a very long time to work against the triple option, sometimes it's tough to defend."
The win was the Bearkats' third straight over a Big Sky team in the playoffs.
"I want to give a ton of credit to (EWU)," Fritz said. "Most teams would have folded shop when they were down 35-0 in the first half and kicking off to us in the second half. Those guys really did a sensational job in the second half."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
|Sam Houston St.||14||21||0||10||—||45|
SamH — Bell 6 run (Antonio kick), 7:34.
SamH — Shaw 37 interception return (Antonio kick), 3:08.
SamH — Bell 72 run (Antonio kick), 12:56.
SamH — Hill 15 run (Antonio kick), 6:44.
SamH — Sincere 6 run (Antonio kick), 3:48.
EWas — Herd 31 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 10:29.
EWas — Kaufman 22 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 2:02.
EWas — Clark 43 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 1:05.
EWas — Kaufman 43 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 13:08.
SamH — Young 4 pass from Bell (Antonio kick), 10:49.
EWas — Edwards 7 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 9:48.
SamH — FG Antonio 42, 5:33.
EWas — Kaufman 33 pass from Adams (Pavel kick), 3:04.
A — 7,615.
|Time of Possession||38:21||21:39|
Rushing — Sam Houston St., Flanders 34-231, Sincere 10-69, Bell 8-59, Hill 6-30, Pride 2-20, Diller 1-9, S.Williams 1-4, Nelson 1-0, Team 2-(- 4). E. Washington, Adams 6-26, Forte 4-20, Bronson 2-3, Herd 1-(- 2), Padron 6-(- 5).
Passing — Sam Houston St., Bell 9-13-0-85, Sincere 0-1-0-0. E. Washington, Adams 14-26-2-364, Padron 8-16-1-117.
Receiving — Sam Houston St., Young 2-25, S.Williams 2-21, Pride 2-19, Diller 2-16, Sincere 1-4. E. Washington, Kaufman 9-215, Clark 5-135, Herd 4-88, Hill 2-29, Edwards 1-7, Mitchell 1-7.