How crazy is this? Sam Houston State did better against Texas A&M than it did against North Dakota State.
Saturday in Frisco, the Bearkats lost the NCAA Football Championship Series (FCS) title to NDSU for the second straight year, falling to the Bison, 39-13.
But the Bearkats took on A&M in its final regular season game November 20. A&M prevailed, 47-28. As Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News (no doubt detouring to Frisco on his way home from the Cotton Bowl) noted, 28 is more points than either Oklahoma or Alabama managed against the Aggie Wrecking Crew.
It was a harder, more impressive road (literally) back to the FCS championship game for SHSU this season, even though it ended in the same heartbreak as the 2011 campaign. Last year Sam Houston went 11-0 in the regular season, was ranked #1 in the FCS and played three playoff games at home. This year they went 8-3, were unseeded in the playoff bracket and had to beat Eastern Washington and Montana State away to make it back to Frisco.
Two of those three losses were to FBS schools--A&M and Baylor--which no doubt made the Bearkats stronger.
"We felt coming into this game Sam Houston was a better football team than last year--they certainly had more weapons," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said in Zwerneman's story. "The game was closer than the final score, and the yards indicate that."
The Bison outgained the Bearkats 441-391, but Sam Houston had trouble with turnovers, penalties and an injury to its best defensive player, Mesquite-native and two-time Southland Conference defender of the year Darnell Taylor, an NFL draft prospect who came to Huntsville so he could play with his twin brother Darius .
The game was all but over when the Bison went up 23-10, then botched the extra-point attempt. No one-point safety here, as NDSU holder Ben LeCompte picked up the ball and pitched it back to kicker Adam Keller, who managed to hit lineman Mark Hardle in the end zone for a successful two-point conversion pass. 25-10.
As Craig Haley noted for The Sports Network, 13 points was a shockingly low output for Sam Houston, which had been averaging 41.9 points pe game. That's why Bearkats coach Willie Fritz ranked the Bison's defensive effort over that of both the FBS teams his squad lost to.
"This is the best defense we've played this season," Fritz said, "and (Texas) A&M and Baylor have great defenses."
"I'm proud of our guys; we had a great season, and it was hard to get here," Fritz further said, as Gene Schallenberg of the Huntsville Item reported. "But I also talked to them in the locker room about how we've got to find a way to get over the hump. That's something we're going to be working on in the offseason."
"There’s two schools of thought when looking at the state of the Bearkats football program," Schallenberg wrote. "Either the Kats have missed their window for a championship or this is just the beginning of Sam Houston becoming an FCS powerhouse like Georgia Southern, Appalachian State or Montana."
As fans of SHSU, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and (until this season) Texas State know, FCS is a great brand of football that offers the one thing that the Football Bowl Series (FBS) level hasn't: an actual playoff. That will change in 2014, when the big boys get their long-awaited made-for-TV four-team tournament, but FCS involves a more March Madness-like 20 teams (out of 100-plus), and will expand to 24 next season.
Still, the FCS powers-that-be don't seem all that interested in reaching out to FBS fans, or any other kind of football fans. The game's presence in Frisco, which began in 2010 and will continue through at least 2015, has given the championship more of a bowl-like feel (it used to be in Chattanooga, Tennessee), but its accompanying move to January from December (until 2009, the championship was played on week after the semi-finals) leaves it gasping for attention.
This year's contest took place at noon on Saturday, a mere 12 hours after Texas A&M beat Oklahoma 40 miles away, leaving little time for media hype/anticipation, either locally or nationally. Its first 90 seconds or so were not aired by ESPN2 because a college basketball game ran late. And it was on directly oposite ESPN's broadcast of the BBVA Compass Bowl betwee Pitt and Ole Miss, as well as the U.S. Army All-American high school all-star game on NBC.
Not to mention noon to three is when a lot of people needed to go to Costco or the liquor store before settling in to watch two NFL wild card playoff games.
Watch ESPN's FCS championship highlights--if only to see that crazy extra-point play--below: