Philadelphia, PA – Last season, Sam Houston State football 19, in the FCS championship game.
Fritz will once again be making the 200-mile drive from Huntsville to Frisco, but this time he'll be joined by his team and a large fan contingency of Bearkats fans, who have already helped the game sell out.
"I know it's a sell-out. I was hoping that would stop people from calling me for tickets, but it hasn't," Fritz said. "It really is (an incentive to play so close to home). Last year, I went to the ball game and they were about the farthest teams you could get in the ball game. I think we could easily sell another 10,000 tickets. It's going to be a neat deal."
While the Sam Houston State fans will enjoy a three-hour drive to the game, North Dakota State is making a 1,000-plus mile journey, but it hasn't kept the Bison fans from gobbling up tickets.
"I know our ticket allotment was 4,000 and we went way, way past that. I think we could have sold 10,000," North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl said. "I think you're seeing an emerging product of FCS football, I think this is an exclamation point that it's three weeks out and it's already sold out."
If the schools could get the desired tickets, and if the game was played in a larger venue, it could have challenged the FCS championship game record set in 1995, when Montana beat Marshall, 22-20, in front of 32,106 fans in Huntington, W.Va.
NOT SO NATURAL
Pizza Hut Park is going through a name change, but that doesn't change how the teams will prepare for an unnatural, er, natural surface.
The soon-to-be-renamed FC Dallas Stadium has a natural grass surface, a field North Dakota State and Sam Houston State have played just three games on combined.
However, the grass shouldn't be an issue as long as the weather holds up.
"I think the only time it comes into play is if it rains or is wet," Fritz said. "I had a chance to go down there and it was in really pristine condition. Artificial turf, they're trying as hard as they can to get it to play like natural grass."
In reversing an earlier announcement, stadium officials have decided to use FC Dallas Stadium for the championship game after the Pizza Hut Park naming rights end Dec. 31.
And, oh by the way, game tickets say Pizza Hut Park.
With a three-week break between the semifinal round and championship game, both teams should be well rested and healed up on Jan. 7.
"From our perspective, some time to get the bumps and bruises healed up," Bohl said. "There have been a couple guys that are going to be able to join us for the championship game that were not able to play in a couple of these other games. There's certainly an advantage on that part. I think you can become a little bit more familiar with your opponent."
The added time could be an advantage for North Dakota State, as Bohl and his staff will have added time to break down film of Sam Houston State's unique offense.
Of course, there are disadvantages with the long break.
"At times football players will lose their level of execution," Bohl said. "Football is a complicated game. So when you marginalize some of your activities and you're not out doing activities at a high level, you lose some of that edge."
MAN IN THE MIRROR
If North Dakota State quarterback Brock Jensen looked in the mirror, he might see Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell.
Both sophomores, Jensen and Bell aren't the focal point of their respective offenses, but both have developed as more-than-effective game managers and done everything asked to lead their team to the championship game.
Not only do both quarterbacks protect the ball and limit interceptions, but they also have the ability to beat defenses with their feet - in the playoffs, Bell ran for a 54-yard touchdown against Montana State, while Jensen had a 55- yard touchdown scamper against Georgia Southern.
"Well, they both are multi-dimensional," Fritz said. "They can throw it and they can run it. I think they are both faster and better athletes than maybe people give them credit for. I certainly know our kid can run well. Watching their quarterback, (he had a) 50-some-odd-yard touchdown run against Georgia Southern. I know the guys chasing him were very fast."
With both teams making FCS championship game debuts, neither team has an decided advantage in the experience department.
"I think both teams will be in the same shape going into a championship game with a three-week period where you're not playing," Bohl said. "It's unchartered waters for both of us."
"Obviously it's going to be a high stakes game playing for the national championship," Fritz said. "But, I don't think it's going to be any different because it's the first time for both squads."
THEY'LL BE BACK?
Perhaps the rest of the FCS teams should take notice, because Sam Houston State and North Dakota State could have staying power to remain championship programs.
"Something else I think that's unique about both teams, we're both relatively young teams," Fritz said. "I look at their roster, a lot of underclassmen, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, and we only have 12 seniors on our squad."
Combined, there are only 11 seniors starting in the championship game - seven Bison, four Bearkats.