Villanova, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - They have the same Sam Houston State players who opened the season by losing three of their first four games.
But realistically, the Bearkats are a much different team today.
They are headed back to the FCS semifinals for the third time in four seasons after beating sixth-seeded Villanova, 34-31, in the quarterfinals Saturday while the Wildcats played without star quarterback John Robertson because of symptoms from a concussion.
Unseeded Sam Houston State (11-4), which has won three playoff games, will play at second-seeded North Dakota State (13-1) in the semifinals next weekend. The Bearkats lost to the Bison in both the 2011 and '12 national championship games.
Sam Houston has few key players from those recent powers and even a first-year coach in K.C. Keeler, but the Bearkats has put it all together at the right time of the season.
"That was a well-played football game by two pretty good teams," said Keeler, who coached against Villanova for 11 seasons in CAA Football from 2002-12 at Delaware. "It is great to get the win and great to be in the final four. I don't care who or where we play because it will be exciting no matter what."
The Bearkats had prepared to face Robertson in the teams' first-ever meeting, but that changed Saturday after he awoke with a headache from the concussion he suffered in last weekend's playoff win over Liberty.
Robertson, a redshirt junior who was the CAA Football offensive player of the year, went through concussion protocols during the week and was cleared to play against Sam Houston State, but he was scratched by the team's medical staff following an examination Saturday morning.
Jalen Overstreet's 1-yard touchdown run with 4:03 left to play gave Sam Houston its 34-31 lead. Villanova (11-3), behind Robertson's replacement, senior Chris Polony, moved the ball down to the Bearkats' 29, but drew an ill-timed delay- of-game penalty while setting up for a potential, game-tying 46-yard field goal attempt. That made it a 51-yard attempt for Chris Gough and he missed wide to the left with 32 seconds left.
Polony played well in relief of Robertson. He completed 13-of-24 pass attempts for 228 yards and one touchdown, and carried the 13 times for 87 yards and two touchdown. Very Robertson-esque, in fact.
Sam Houston seems so different because it has jelled with a team that has eight FBS transfers and 18 starters who didn't start in Keeler's first spring game. New quarterback Jared Johnson, last year's backup behind four-year starter Brian Bell, was 22-for-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Leading 17-16 at halftime, Sam Houston scored on the first play of the third quarter when Johnson threw a 66-yard bomb to LaDarius Brown for their second touchdown connection.
But Villanova tailback Kevin Monangai (27 carries, 166 yards) scored on a 58- yard run with 9:36 left in the third quarter and Kevin Gulyas caught the two- point conversation from Polony to tie the game 24-24.
Luc Swimberghe's 30-yard field goal with 10:54 left in the fourth quarter put Sam Houston back in front, 27-24.
But Villanova answered with a nine-play, 67-yard drive, which was capped by Polony rolling out from a shotgun for a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 31-27 Wildcats with 7:15 left.
Sam Houston had an answer as well, moving 75 yards in 10 plays and going ahead 34-31 on Overstreet's 1-yrd run up the middle at the 4:03 mark.
Polony had originally beaten out Robertson for the No. 1 job in 2012, but Robertson had made 35 straight starts for the Wildcats before Saturday's game.
Polony accounted for two touchdowns in the first quarter. He connected with wide receiver Poppy Livers for a 54-yard touchdown pass to pull Villanova within 7-6 before the extra point was missed. He later scored on a 36-yard keeper to give the Wildcats a 13-7 lead.
But Sam Houston answered that score with a 12-play, 80-yard drive, moving back ahead 14-13 after Johnson's second touchdown pass, a 4-yarder to Gerald Thomas with 9:54 remaining in the second quarter.
Swimberghe extended Sam Houston's lead with a 32-yard field goal, but Gough, who missed the earlier extra point, closed the half with a 46-yard field goal to pull the Wildcats within 17-16.