HUNTSVILLE, Texas — There was more orange than usual at Bowers Stadium on Saturday afternoon. A project on the north side of the facility was littered with the color of construction.
It’s probably a safe bet that if workers punched in for duty, they didn’t stay long while working on the Ron Mafrige Field House, which will be home to the football and track and field teams in addition to administrative offices and meeting rooms. It was raining most of the day in Huntsville, at times a deluge.
On Sunday, there will be plenty of people working, mainly the football teams from North Dakota State and Sam Houston.
The Division I FCS quarterfinal matchup is expected to be a major source of interest in the town of 42,000 people. One man standing outside the stadium on Saturday said the school was giving away tickets to students in lots of 500.
The story lines are numerous within the field of play, such as NDSU’s power-based run offense vs. Sam Houston’s run defense that is ranked third in the FCS. On the sideline, Bearkats head coach K.C. Keeler will be aiming to keep his undefeated personal home playoff record intact. He’s 28-0 with stops at Rowan College (N.J.), Delaware and the last six years at Sam Houston.
He was 13-0 at NCAA Division III Rowan, 8-0 at Delaware and is working on seven straight wins at Bowers Stadium. Keeler said he asked his sports information department to put that statistic out there.
“Not to put any more pressure on 29,” he said. “The point is, you play in the playoffs, a lot of time having the home field advantage is critical because there is so much that goes on in a playoff game.”
That includes accommodations that are finalized the week of the game, instead of months in advance like a regular season road trip. Or when the departure day and time is, with NDSU flying into nearby Spring, Texas, on Friday because of NCAA mandatory COVID-19 testing 24 hours in advance of game time.
“Now those kinds of things are taken off your plate,” Keeler said, “so especially when you start getting late in the season when worried about finals and those kinds of things. I think there’s an advantage of being at home and Bowers has been very good to this program. But these guys have won a lot of games and it’s not like we’re in Huntsville, let’s start the Mardis Gras. No it’s nice to have them at home but they’ve traveled well.”
After a 6-0 spring regular season of winning a few games by big margins, the Bearkats held off Monmouth last weekend in the first round 21-15. Otherwise, Sam Houston, at home, beat Southeastern Louisiana 43-38, Nicholls 71-17 and McNeese 27-13.
If the weather cooperates, and with the NCAA bumping up the number of fans to 50 percent capacity, Bowers Stadium may reach that limit. Scattered thunderstorms on Sunday morning are expected to diminish by game time.
“It’s going to be a great crowd out there,” Keeler said.
The construction to a locker room and meeting room complex has rendered the Bearkats somewhat homeless this spring. The coaches use the press box for office space. A large tent acts as a makeshift locker room.
It’s added another obstacle to the COVID-19 interrupted season.
“We’ve talked to this team, all the things they’ve gone through,” Keeler said. “They’ve gone through the whole season, they’ve washed their own clothes and they said whatever it’s going to take. This will be a nice chance to reap some benefits.”
And keep Keeler’s home playoff record intact.