Philadelphia, PA – What Andre Ware saw is what Timothy Flanders had been thinking already.
While Sam Houston State beat Montana in the FCS semifinals on Dec. 16, Ware described as an announcer on the ESPN broadcast that Flanders' moves as a running back are similar to what Barry Sanders once provided for the Detroit Lions.
Ware, the 1989 Heisman Trophy winner, did not have a prior conversation with Flanders, but seeing was believing.
Had they talked, Ware would have learned Flanders' all-time favorite player is Barry Sanders.
That Flanders was zigging and zagging his way to a school-record 287 yards on 26 carries was worthy of lofty comparisons. In taking over the game, Flanders propelled Sam Houston State to its first appearance in the FCS championship game.
The No. 1-seeded Bearkats (14-0) will play No. 2 North Dakota State (13-1) on Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, about 200 miles from their campus in Huntsville. After their holiday break, they will rejoin as a team on Tuesday to continue preparations for the title game.
North Dakota State's defensive focus will begin with Flanders, the 2011 Southland Conference Player of the Year who is filling Sam Houston State's record book. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound redshirt sophomore transfer from Kansas State, whose flip touchdown against Stephen F. Austin earlier this season might be the most sensational play of the FCS season, has rushed for 1,560 yards and scored 24 touchdowns.
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Flanders discusses the Bearkats' unbeaten season.
Let's kick off:
TSN: Obviously, you went from gaining 38 yards against Montana State (in the FCS quarterfinals) to 287 against Montana. Were you extra motivated during those six days between games?
TF: I felt the same (as) I did every week. I thought each game was going to be harder when we played. I only had 38 yards (against Montana State), but Montana was playing us the same exact way. It was just a lot of different read keys, a lot more give and stuff like that.
TSN: How does your team deal with having three weeks off before the championship game?
TF: I'm pretty sure we're motivated. I mean, I'm pretty sure that everybody is doing what they can to stay ready. I know everybody's excited. But I'm pretty sure most of our team will be good when we get back.
TSN: Your team has come from 6-5 last year to 14-0 this year. What has your team done to skip a step in that building process?
TF: Coach (Willie) Fritz always told us we want to go from being average to being great. We skipped the 'good' part. We went 6-5 last year and we had a winning record. But some teams usually go 6-5 and next year they'll go 10-2 or something like that. But now we skipped that good mark and we're trying to go for great.
TSN: What does the offense do so well that makes it tough to defend against?
TF: It starts with blocking. Our offensive line does a very good job of blocking, the receivers do a good job of blocking downfield. Then we have all the option game and we come from different angles, different formations any way we can. And then on top of that, we have the play-action pass.
TSN: From an offensive mindset, can you break down what your team's defense does so well?
TF: They do a real good job running to the football - a very good job. That's why they're good against the rush defense and they're getting better each game with the pass defense. I mean, those guys help (the offense) a lot, they give us good field position each game.