FRISCO — The Bearkats have finally reached the pinnacle of the FCS.
Quarterback Eric Schmid found wide receiver Ife Adeyi in the end zone from 10 yards out with 16 seconds left in the game to lift No. 2 Sam Houston to a 23-21 victory over No. 1 South Dakota State in the national championship game at Toyota Stadium Sunday.
It is the first FCS title in school history after the Bearkats (10-0) lost in back-to-back title games in 2011 and 2012. The victory also moved head coach K.C. Keeler into the all-time lead for NCAA playoff wins with 24.
Sam Houston converted two fourth-down plays on the game-winning drive which came after the Jackrabbits rallied from 10 points down to go up 21-17 with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The first conversion came on a 9-yard run on fourth and one from the SDSU 22, and the second Schmid hooked up with wide receiver Jequez Ezzard for a 5-yard gain to the 10.
After two incompletions, Schmid and Adeyi sent the Bearkat crowd into a frenzy with the game-winning touchdown as the defense stopped the Jackrabbits (8-2) on their last-ditch effort to get into field goal range.
Schmid was 20 for 37 passing for 209 yards and three touchdowns, and he had 54 yards rushing. Ezzard, who was the game’s Most Valuable Player, finished with a season-high 10 receptions for 108 yards and two scores, and Adeyi had 73 yards on five catches.
Running back Ramon Jefferson just missed the century mark on the ground, rushing 16 times for 96 yards.
The Bearkats took their first lead after the game following a missed 43-yard field goal by SDSU coming out of a 75-minute delay because of lightning in the area midway through the second quarter.
Schmid connected with Adeyi for a 30-yard gain to the Jackrabbit’s 41 on a clutch third and seven conversion. A 15-yard personal foul and a 12-yard run by Jefferson setup a 15-yard scoring strike from Schmid to Ezzard as Sam Houston went up 14-7 with 1:21 left in the half.
Adeyi made another big play toward the end of the third when he caught another Schmid pass for 21 yards to get the ball back in SDSU territory. The drive stalled, but freshman Seth Morgan kicked a career-long 45-yard field goal to give the Kats a 17-7 lead.
Ezzard provided another highlight reel play as the Bearkats finally broke through offensively to tie the game at 7. He hauled in a short pass on the left sideline, dodged some defenders as he cut across the field to outrace the Jackrabbits to drive into the right side of the end zone from 35 yards out.
The defense made a big stand in the first quarter with the Jackrabbits threatening to take a two-score lead. After a Bearkat fumble on a punt attempted resulted in a turnover on downs at the SHSU 19, SDSU botched the hold on 34-yard field goal attempt to give the ball back to the Kats with 5:07 to in the period.
Sam Houston had a costly penalty that wiped a touchdown off the board right before the end of the first quarter. Ezzard returned a punt 67-yards for a score, but an illegal block brought the ball back to midfield, and the Kats eventually were forced to punt.
The Bearkats were moving the ball on their opening drive after stopping the Jackrabbits near midfield. Schmid and Ramon Jefferson combined to pick up 28 yards on three carries, but a fumble on a bad snap led to a turnover.
South Dakota State quickly took advantage of the mishap. The Jackrabbits went 41 yards in just over two minutes thanks to a 20-yard run by Isaiah Davis, who scored from a yard out to put SDSU on top 7-0.
COURTESY SAM HOUSTON STATE COMMUNICATIONS