Huntsville, TX – Sam Houston State is still undefeated, and the next stop is Frisco, Texas.
The top-seeded, and only undefeated team in the FCS entering the playoffs, Sam Houston State built a big lead and then held on to defeat Montana, 31-28, in the semifinals on Friday night.
After getting stifled in the quarterfinals, Southland Player of the Year Tim Flanders put together one of the biggest performances of his career, rushing for 287 yards and a 69-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
On one of his biggest runs of the night, Flanders helped the Bearkats convert on a 4th-and-one from their own 48-yard line, picking up the first down and sliding to stay inbounds, allowing them to run out the clock.
Earlier, it looked like it wouldn't have even been a close contest, as the Bearkats dominated the first half.
After stopping Montana on the opening drive, Sam Houston State opened up the scoring on a 11-yard touchdown run at 10:36 by quarterback Brian Bell, who kept the ball on an option play and ran untouched into the end zone.
Following Bell's touchdown run, Montana responded with a 10-play drive, but couldn't capitalize as Brody McKnight's 48-yard field goal attempt into the wind wasn't even close.
The miss ended McKnight's school-record streak of consecutive field goals, he had converted on the prior 16 attempts.
Missing the field goal proved to be detrimental for the Grizzlies, as Flanders responded with a 69-yard touchdown run on the very next play at 6:00 of the first quarter.
The first-quarter struggles continued for Montana, as a fumble in Sam Houston State territory was turned into a 20-yard touchdown connection from Bell to Grant Merritt, giving the Bearkats a 21-0 lead.
Montana finally scored with 6:27 remaining in the second quarter, as Jordan Johnson connected with Jabin Sambrano for a 30-yard touchdown. The scoring strike capped a seven-play, 73-yard drive, following up the Grizzlies first defensive stop of the game.
After stalling on its previous drive, Sam Houston State once again found the end zone, this time getting a 27-yard touchdown pass from Bell with 2:15 left in the half.
Linebacker Caleb McSurdy gave Montana a lift just before halftime, intercepting a pass and returning it 59-yards for a touchdown with a minute remaining. Sam Houston State entered the halftime break ahead, 28-14.
The play by McSurdy nearly saved Montana's season, as he and his teammates outscored Sam Houston State 14-3 in the second half.
After a touchdown-dominated first half, a field goal was the first scoring play of the second half, as Sam Houston State's Craig Alaniz converted on 25- yard field goal after the defense recovered a fumble at the Montana eight-yard line. The field goal proved to the Bearkats' lone scoring play of the half.
Following the field goal, Montana cut Sam Houston State's lead to 31-21 on a three-yard touchdown run by Jordan Canada at 3:36 of the third quarter.
Montana's defense picked up a key stop to start the fourth quarter, holding Sam Houston State on a third-and-six situation, before Johnson scored on a 54- yard touchdown run with 11:26 remaining.
However, it wasn't enough to stop Sam Houston State, which put together a key clock-killing drive at the end of the game.
Johnson was the offensive catalyst for Montana, completing 21-of-33 passes for 277 yards. He also rushed 11 times for 64 yards.
Montana finishes the season at 11-3.