Beating the No. 1-ranked team in the nation in your division is difficult, but when you turn the ball to them over four times, it makes the task nearly impossible. Sadly for Huntsville-based Sam Houston State, that was the fate of the game Saturday.
North Dakota State, the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Series (FCS and formerly the NCAA Division I-AA), took advantage of four interceptions from the Bearkats and cruised to a 39-13 win in the title game at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco.
It was the second consecutive season that the two schools played in the championship game. North Dakota State won last year's game, 17-6. It was also the Bisons' eighth-straight playoff win.
Quarterback Brock Jensen ran for three touchdowns and Sam Ojuri scored twice for North Dakota State (14-1).
Both teams were tied 10-10 at halftime, then Jensen scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard sneak in the third quarter, and Ojuri had a 2-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 as the Bison rushed out to a 25-10 lead.
Sam Houston State running back Tim Flanders races downfield away from the North Dakota State defense.
Sam Houston State (11-4) had a 40-yard touchdown run by Tim Flanders brought back by a holding penalty on the first possession of the second half, and Brian Bell's second interception on the next play led to Jensen's go-ahead score.
Bell threw for 255 yards against the nation's best pass defense, but had three of Sam Houston State's four interceptions. Flanders, the school's career rushing leader, was held to 53 yards on 19 carries, a 2.8 average.
It was tied at 10 when Flanders broke loose on an apparent touchdown on the first possession of the second half. Instead, Sam Houston State had a third long run deep into Bison territory wiped out by a holding penalty. None of the drives ended in points.
After the holding call on Flanders' run, Carlton Littlejohn intercepted Bell's pass while falling to his knees, and the turnover was upheld on review. Ojuri had 25 yards rushing on a drive that ended with Jensen's score for a 17-10 lead.
The Bearkats were driving again when Bell had to throw the ball away before getting slammed to the turf on fourth-and-1. He stayed flat on his back and sat out parts of the fourth quarter.
Jensen's 31-yard pass to Zach Vraa set up Ojuri's fourth-down run, and the Bison further deflated the Bearkats when they turned a botched snap on the extra point into a 2-point conversion and a 25-10 lead on a desperation pass from kicker Adam Keller to Mike Hardie.
North Dakota State running back John Crockett scampers away from Sam Houston State defender Darius Taylor (36).
Marcus Williams had two of North Dakota State' four interception, giving him a school-record 18 for his career.
Sam Houston State ended a championship game touchdown drought just before it reached six quarters and tied the score at 10 when Bell threw a 1-yard pass to K.J. Williams with 33 seconds left in the first half. A 30-yard toss to Richard Sincere put the ball on the 1 three plays after an interception by Andre Martin Jr. was wiped out when he was called for defensive holding. Martin did get an interception later in the game.
Crockett's career-long 57-yard run set up a 32-yard field goal by Keller to give North Dakota State a first-quarter lead. Miguel Antonio kicked a tying 38-yarder in the second quarter after missing from 32 yards in the first.
You can read more about the game, including statistics, photos and videos, from the official site for the FCS championship, NCAA.org.
The game was hosted by the Southland Conference.
Sam Houston State: gobearkats.com
North Dakota State: gobison.com
FC Dallas Stadium: fcdallasstadium.com