Bearkats punch ticket to FCS title game
HUNTSVILLE — The Bearkats are Frisco bound once again.
Sam Houston made big plays offensively and defensively to rally from a 21-point deficit to sack James Madison 38-35 in the semifinal round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at Bowers Stadium Saturday.
The Bearkats (9-0) will play South Dakota State (8-1) in the championship game Sunday at 1 p.m. on May 16 at Toyota Stadium.
Down 24-3 at the half, Sam Houston finally found the end zone seven minutes into the third quarter, and the game got wild from there.
Quarterback Eric Schmid connected with wideouts Cody Crest and Ife Adeyi for gains of 17 and 18 yards with the pass to Crest also drawing a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. Running back Ramon Jefferson helped the Kats cut the lead to 24-10 with a seven-yard touchdown run.
JMU answered with a 48-yard field goal, but it did not take Sam Houston long to answer. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Schmid hit a wide-open Jequez Ezzard who dodged defenders and raced his way to a 69-yard score.
Ezzard was just getting warmed up. After a defensive stop, he took the punt 80 yards to the end zone to cut the lead to 27-24 with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
The momentum was clearly in the Bearkats’ favor at that point. Wide receiver Ryan Humphries recovered a fumble on the kickoff and that led to a 20-yard touchdown run by Schmid to give the Kats their first lead since the opening quarter at 31-27.
Sam Houston put up 174 yards of total offense in the third quarter almost doubling the total from the first half.
Defensive back Zyon McCollum picked off JMU quarterback Cole Johnson on the first play following the kickoff, and Schmid capped the scoring drive with an 11-yard run as the Bearkats went up 38-27 with 12:16 left in the game.
The Dukes answered with a 34-yard scoring pass by Johnson to Scott Bracey to cut the lead to 38-35.
One of the defensive plays of the game came with James Madison threatening to score late in the fourth quarter. On third and 9 at the SHSU 27, Joseph Wallace busted through the line and sacked backup quarterback Gage Moloney for a seven-yard loss.
That forced a 51-yard field that was wide left, and the Bearkats were able to run out the clock to improve to 16-0 at home in the playoffs.
After trading field goals in a defensive battle for most of the first half, the Dukes opened a 17-point lead thanks to some explosive plays in the second quarter.
The Kats held JMU to just 33 yards of total offense in the opening period. The Dukes, however, put up 244 in the final 15 minutes of the half mainly because the defense was worn down due to the SHSU offense’s inability to move the ball.
James Madison took a 10-3 when on a one-yard quarterback sneak by Cole Johnson following a 36-yard run by Jawon Hamilton and a 33-yard reception by Clayton Cheatham. Six minutes later, Johnson found Noah Turner for 41 yards which led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Antwane Wells.
Schmid’s second interception of the game on the following drive resulted in another Dukes’ touchdown right before the half. Wells hauled in 36-yard catch, and Cheatham made it 24-3 with a seven-yard scoring run.
Sam Houston in the meantime, had just 108 yards of total offense in the first half.
The Bearkats had a golden opportunity to get in the end zone after JMU’s Harry O’Kelly punted the ball off defensive end Juan Henry’s facemask on the opening drive of the game to give SHSU a first and goal from the Dukes’ 2-yard line.
Sam Houston failed to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs.
The Kats forced a three and out and got the ball back at the JMU 39. The drive stalled after Schmid broke free for a 16-yard run, and Seth Morgan made it 3-0 with a 29-yard field goal with just over nine minutes to go in the first quarter.
– Bearkat head coach K.C. Keeler has tied former Ohio State and Youngstown State head coach Jim Tressel for most career playoff wins at 23. Keeler is also 30-0 at home in the NCAA playoffs including stints at Rowan, Delaware and Sam Houston.
– James Madison’s Percy Agyei-Obese led the Dukes with 98 yards rushing. The Kats have now gone 20 straight games without allowing an individual 100-yard rusher.
– The 21-point comeback tied the biggest comeback for a win in the history of the program. The last time they overcame a 21-point deficit for a win with just 13:39 to play to defeat Southwest Texas, 32-31, in Huntsville on November 22, 1986.
– Zyon McCollum’s interception was the first of the season for the senior, and his 10th career pick. He is now tied for sixth all-time in career interceptions at Sam Houston.
– Jequez Ezzard’s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first punt return for a score in Bearkat playoff history. He is now the third Bearkat in program history with 2 punt return TDs in the same season.
COURTESY SAM HOUSTON STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS