If there was such a thing as College GameDay in the FCS, Chris, Lee, Kirk and Desmond would be firmly planted in Huntsville, Texas, this Saturday as No. 3 Eastern Washington visits No. 4 Sam Houston State. To fully understand what this game means, you have to look back at the last time these teams met. If you weren't in front of your television on the afternoon and evening of December 15, 2012, you were wrong. These teams staged one of the wildest football games that can possibly be played.
Here's what happened:
Sam Houston State rolled through the first half. Outside of two three-and-outs in the first quarter and a clock killer at the end of the half, Sam Houston State mounted four drives totaling 23 plays for 244 yards, and each ended in a rushing touchdown. The Bearkats' defense also knocked Eastern Washington starting quarterback Kyle Padron out of the game after he completed 8-of-16 for 117 yards with a pick six and was sacked four times. As the teams headed to the locker room for the break, the home team faced a 35-0 deficit.
Even if you didn't see the game, you have an idea what happened next or else we wouldn't have written an article about it.
“More than anything, (I told them) take it one play at a time," Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin said after the game. "I know that is cliché, but it’s true. If you read the scoreboard it can look too overwhelming, but if you focus on a play and a drive (it’s manageable). We said if we could get a score, and then another score, we can creep back into this game."
Just as Sam Houston State took its foot off the accelerator, Eastern Washington back-up quarterback Vernon Adams' jammed his foot to the floor. The Eagles' first five drives travelled 338 yards on just 22 snaps - no drive took more than seven plays - and each ended in an Adams touchdown pass.
As the Eagles climbed with seven with 13:08 still to play and the 7,615 at Roos Stadium sounding more like 76,000, quarterback Brian Bell marched the Bearkats 83 yards in five plays to push the score to 42-28 with 10:49 to play.
Adams threw incomplete on his first pass of the ensuing drive, then hit on throws of 60, 11 and seven yards. Sixty-one seconds after Sam Houston State's score, it was 42-35.
Two Eastern Washington breakdowns by players that had helped put the Eagles in position to steal the win ultimately sealed their fate. After an outstanding first three and a half quarters, the EWU coverage units allowed the Bearkats a 34-yard kickoff return, which allowed Sam Houston State a field goal after traveling only 36 yards - and killing 4:15 off the clock - thereby pushing the score to 45-35.
On the first play of Eastern Washington's next possession, Adams was intercepted.
Sam Houston State killed another 1:51 off the clock, leaving Eastern Washington only 3:29 to make up a 10-point hole. Adams rushed for 19 yards and then threw yet another touchdown, his sixth, to make the score 45-42, but Sam Houston State recovered the ensuing onside kick and consumed the remaining 3:04 on the clock. Ball game.
Tailback Tim Flanders carried the Sam Houston State rushing attack, accounting for 34 carries and 231 yards. The team as a whole rushed 65 times for 418 yards and four touchdowns. While connecting on 14-of-26 passes, Adams managed to register 364 passing yards and six touchdowns (with two interceptions) in two-and-a-half quarters.
"I want to give a ton of credit to (Eastern Washington)," Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz said. "Most teams would have folded shop when they were down 35-0 in the first half and kicking off to us in the second half. Those guys really did a sensational job in the second half."
The win pushed Sam Houston State into its second straight FCS national championship game, and gave Eastern Washington its first playoff loss on the red turf.