After nearly throwing away double-digit leads in their first two playoff games, the Sam Houston Bearkats found themselves on the other side of the spectrum on Saturday.
Different scenario, same result.
Trailing by 21 — by far their largest deficit of the season — with less than two quarters to go against a James Madison team that was giving up just 13.4 points per game, the Bearkats did what they have all postseason: find a way to survive and advance.
According to ESPN.com, Sam Houston had a 2.8% win probability with 10:22 left in the third quarter after taking a five-yard loss on a first-and-10. The Bearkats bounced back on that drive, however, marching 80 yards on seven plays to spark a comeback that put their trademark resiliency on full display.
When the Dukes drilled a 48-yard field goal to stretch their lead back to three scores, the Bearkats answered with 21 unanswered points in the final 2:22 of the third — courtesy of a pair of show-stopping plays from senior highlight reel Jequez Ezzard and a breakaway touchdown run by junior quarterback Eric Schmid — to pull ahead for good.
If you’ve watched Sam Houston this spring, this offensive eruption shouldn’t come as a shock. After all, this same Bearkat team did put up 133 points in a two-week span earlier this year. What they did to James Madison was even more impressive.
The Dukes had never given up more than 24 points all year, while keeping opponents to 17 or less points in all five of their regular season games. Sam Houston hung four touchdowns on them in one quarter, and 35 points in a span of less than 10 minutes.
JMU weathered the storm and had a chance to win in the final moments, but as it had in each of the previous two weeks, the defense came up with a stop in their territory to secure the win.
The Bearkats showcased their refusal to lose in the first round against Monmouth, as they avoided a 21-point collapse on a last-minute interception in the end zone by Isaiah Downes. They did it again the next week, rallying to beat North Dakota State after fumbling away a 15-point lead to the winner of eight of the past nine national titles. And with a third-down sack from Joe Wallace that proved to push JMU out of range on its game-tying field goal attempt, they did it again in the FCS semifinals.
Ever since the spring season started, nobody has been able to kill off these Kats. Not the greatest dynasty in FCS history, and not the No. 1 team in the country — even with a three-touchdown advantage.
If the trend continues for one more week, Sam Houston will be bringing home its first-ever FCS championship.