Jacksonville, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - When Sam Houston State had a 1-3 record, the Bearkats were just looking for any victory, let alone reaching the FCS playoffs.
The Bearkats turned their season around and won for the second time in the playoffs on Saturday, dispatching third-seeded Jacksonville State, 37-26, as quarterback Jared Johnson accounted for four touchdowns.
Sam Houston (10-4), under first-year coach K.C. Keeler, will travel to sixth- seeded Villanova (11-2) for the national quarterfinals next weekend.
The Bearkats, making their fourth straight playoff appearance, have won seven straight games and nine of their last 10 since falling to Division II Colorado State-Pueblo on Sept. 13. They shared the Southland Conference title with Southeastern Louisiana and then eliminated the Lions in the playoff first round a week ago.
Johnson completed 13-of-19 pass attempts for 161 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
The Bearkats trailed 26-24 at halftime after Jacksonville State's Connor Rouleau ended the first half with a 42-yard field goal.
Johnson then connected with LaDarius Brown for a second touchdown pass - this time a 49-yarder - to put Sam Houston ahead, 30-26, with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
The Bearkats defense stopped Jacksonville State (10-2) on downs at the Sam Houston 43. On the sixth play of the Bearkats' ensuing drive, Jalen Overstreet scored on a 33-yard run to push the lead to 37-26. Overstreet finished with 83 yards on 10 carries.
Jacksonville State, the Ohio Valley Conference champion whose 10-game winning streak ended, outgained Sam Houston 513 yards to 402, but quarterback Eli Jenkins threw two interceptions in addition to rushing for one touchdown and passing for one.
Gamecocks tailback DaMarcus James carried the ball 19 times for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Keshawn Hill caught Johnson's other touchdown pass.