HUNTSVILLE, Texas — No. 2-seeded Sam Houston stopped North Dakota State on a late drive Sunday, May 2, at Bowers Stadium, also ending the reign of the three-time defending NCAA Division I FCS national champions.
The Bearkats stymied the Bison on a fourth-and-6 play inside the Sam Houston 25-yard line with less than a minute remaining to secure a 24-20 victory in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals.
“We had a lot of belief up until the very end," said Bison defensive end Logan McCormick. "It was very shocking.”
The Bison (7-3) finished a season with three losses for the first time since 2010. The FCS will have a new national champion this season. NDSU also had its string of nine consecutive appearances in the national semifinals snapped.
“It’s something that we don’t experience a lot here at NDSU," said Bison wide receiver Christian Watson. "We pride ourselves on winning, we pride ourselves on being the best.”
Sam Houston (8-0) took back the lead for good after quarterback Eric Schmid's 6-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 39 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
"When you have an Eric Schmid, you have a chance against anyone you play," said Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler.
Two plays before the game-winning score, Schmid completed a 47-yard pass to wide receiver Ife Adeyi, moving the ball to the Bison 5-yard line. That completion came on a third-and-10 play. Schmid completed 25 of 37 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown.
“Jayden Price was right where he needed to be," Bison head coach Matt Entz said of his defensive back. "It was probably a catch determined based on inches.”
NDSU drove the ball to the Sam Houston 17 with less than a minute remaining. On third-and-2, Bison quarterback Cam Miller mishandled an exchange with a running back and had to fall on the ball for a loss of 4, making it fourth-and-6 from the 21.
“I thought I would have some space there and we just bobbled it," Miller said.
On the next play, Miller overthrew tight end Noah Gindorff and Sam Houston took over on downs with 29 seconds remaining. Miller, a true freshman, completed 7 of 18 passes for 90 yards with two interceptions.
“We’ve just got to execute better," Miller said. "I should have made more accurate throws. I missed quite a few down in the red zone that I wish I would have had back.”
The Bison took their first lead of the game after kicker Jake Reinholz booted a 33-yard field goal for a 20-17 edge with 8:17 to play in the fourth quarter. That capped a 65-yard drive that lasted 20 plays. NDSU, however, couldn't protect that lead with the Bearkats scoring on their next possession.
The Bison had to claw back into the game after Sam Houston appeared to have the momentum early in the second half.
“I don’t think we have any quit in us," Entz said.
Sam Houston took a 15-point lead in the third quarter after running back Noah Smith caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Schmid. That scoring play gave the Bearkats a 17-2 lead with 8:39 to play in the third on the opening drive of the second half. Sam Houston drove 75 yards on 12 plays, including one fourth-down conversion.
The Bison countered moments later with Christian Watson's 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, cutting the Sam Houston lead to 17-9 with 8:27 to play in the third quarter.
NDSU continued its special teams binge after Braylon Henderson returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown with 6:43 to play in the third. The Bison tied the score at 17-17 after Miller found Watson on a two-point conversion pass.
“Having big plays like that when you’re kind of at a standstill in a game, it definitely sparks a lot of liveliness and emotion into everyone on the field," Watson said of the two big return touchdowns.
"We beat the defending national champions. That is a great program," Keeler said. "All those guys do is go out and find a way to get back in the game. They struggled offensively against our defense, but they found some things on special teams."
Sam Houston built an early lead, taking advantage of two Bison turnovers. The Bearkats forced a Gindorff fumble that Sam Houston recovered at its own 46-yard line. That led to a 24-yard Seth Morgan field goal that gave the Bearkats a 3-0 lead with 7:55 to play in the first quarter. That drive covered 47 yards and lasted 12 plays.
Later in the first quarter, Sam Houston defensive back Isaiah Downes intercepted Miller to give his team the ball at the NDSU 38-yard line. Ramon Jefferson capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run that gave Sam Houston a 10-0 lead with 2:27 remaining in the opening quarter. NDSU finished minus-3 on turnovers.
“It comes down to ball security," Entz said. "You can’t turn the ball over three times.”
The Bison got a spark from its special teams after Logan McCormick blocked a punt that rolled out of the end zone for a safety. That trimmed the Sam Houston lead to 10-2 with 5:13 to play in the second quarter. NDSU had a chance to cut into the lead in the final seconds of the first half, but Reinholz was off target on a 52-yard field goal attempt.
The Bison, however, rallied in the third quarter and took the lead with less than nine minutes to play in the fourth, but couldn't hold off the Bearkats in the closing minutes.
“We had our destiny in front of us. We could just go out there, but we didn’t execute when we needed to," McCormick said. “We have to be able to make plays when we are given an opportunity. It’s not just going to fall into our hands.”