Sam Houston St. 31, Montana 28

Sam Houston State answered critics who claimed the Bearkats were

too young, too inexperienced and simply not good enough to be

considered among the best in the nation.

Tim Flanders rushed for a school-record 287 yards and a

touchdown and Sam Houston State advanced to its first national

championship game with a 31-28 win over Montana in the Football

Championship Subdivision semifinal on Friday night.

The Bearkats (14-0) will play the winner of Saturday’s semifinal

between North Dakota State and Georgia Southern in the FCS title

game on Jan. 7.

”I don’t think it’s really set in yet,” Bearkats quarterback

Brian Bell said. ”That’s what we dreamed of since day one, going

to the national championship. It’s the best feeling in the

world.

”This one is for everybody who is involved in this program –

alumni, coaches, professors, classmates. If you’ve got something to

do with Sam Houston, this one was for you. This one was for

everybody.”

The Bearkats roared out of the gate with 21 quick points in the

opening quarter. Bell finished Sam Houston State’s first series

with an 11-yard touchdown run.

On the Bearkats’ next play from scrimmage, Flanders took the

handoff on a draw, broke three tackles and sprinted past would-be

tacklers for a 69-yard score.

Just before the end of the quarter, Bell found wide receiver

Grant Merritt for a 20-yard touchdown to extend the Bearkats lead

to 21-0.

Sam Houston State led 28-7 late in the second quarter, when the

Grizzlies’ defense turned momentum. With the Bearkats driving for

another score, linebacker Caleb McSurdy deflected a pass from Bell

and returned it all the way for a 61-yard touchdown to pull Montana

back to within 28-14.

Following a 25-yard field goal by Bearkats kicker Craig Alaniz

in the third quarter, Montana began chipping away at the

deficit.

Jordan Canada finished a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a 3-yard

touchdown run to make it 31-21, and quarterback Jordan Johnson’s

54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter drew the Grizzlies

within three.

The Grizzlies were moving again, until Johnson threw incomplete

on a third-and-11 with about six minutes left, forcing a Montana

punt.

”I thought we would (get the ball back), but you can’t leave it

up to the defense,” Johnson said. ”It was my fault for

underthrowing the ball. When plays are there to be made, you have

to make them. I didn’t do that.”

And Sam Houston State never gave it back. Flanders secured the

win with a 22-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Bearkats’ 47 near

the 2-minute mark.

”My thought was that we just have to keep getting first downs.

That was the main thing,” Flanders said. ”On first-and-10, we

just had to get at least 3 or 4 yards to keep the ball moving

forward. Everything just took care of itself.”

Flanders broke McNeil Moore’s single-game school rushing record

(286 yards) set in 1951 against Lamar.

The Bearkats finished with 496 yards and their top-ranked

rushing defense held Montana to 103 yards on the ground. Johnson

completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards for the Grizzlies (11-3),

who were making their 11th trip to the FCS semifinals.

Sam Houston State only played in the semifinals once previously,

and lost to Montana in 2004.