(5) Sam Houston State (10-3) at (4) Eastern Washington (11-2)
The Sports Network
By Tim McDonnell, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 15, 4 p.m. ET
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roos Field (8,600) - Cheney, Washington. Surface: SprinTurf (red). Television: ESPNU. Announcers: Joe Davis, Jay Walker, Jill Montgomery. Home Record: Sam Houston State 4-0; Eastern Washington 7-0. Road Record: Sam Houston State 5-3; Eastern Washington 4-2; Neutral Record: Sam Houston State 1-0; Eastern Washington 0-0. Conference: Sam Houston State - Southland; Eastern Washington - Big Sky. Nicknames: Sam Houston State Bearkats; Eastern Washington Eagles. Sports Network FCS Rankings: Sam Houston State (5); Eastern Washington (4). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Sam Houston State (NS); Eastern Washington (2). Series Record: Sam Houston State (1-0). Last Meeting: Dec. 4, 2004 (Sam Houston State won, 35-34, at Eastern Washington). Head Coaches: Sam Houston State - Willie Fritz (3rd season, 30-9 at Sam Houston State; 19th season, 166-61-1 overall); Eastern Washington - Beau Baldwin (6th season, 44-18 at Eastern Washington, 54-21 overall). Playoff Records: Sam Houston State (8-5); Eastern Washington (11-7). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Sam Houston State 5 (1986, 91, 2001, 04, 11); Eastern Washington 8 (1985, 92, 97, 2004-05, 07, 2009-10, National Champion in 2010). Current Playoff Streak: Sam Houston State has won four of its last five playoff games; Eastern Washington has won its last six playoff games.
GAME NOTES: Big Sky Conference slayer Sam Houston State heads north once again, this time to take on the offensive juggernaut that is Eastern Washington.
After convincingly defeating Montana State on the road last week, 34-16, the Bearkats have now won four straight playoff contests versus Big Sky opponents over the last two seasons.
The good news for EWU, however, is that Big Sky members have an all-time home playoff record of 21-4 versus Southland foes. Plus, it seems as if the Eagles are hitting all cylinders at the right time of the season.
Quarterback Kyle Padron set a school record last Saturday with six touchdown passes - three went to stud receiver Brandon Kaufman - in a 51-35 victory over Illinois State. He's been very accurate in the last two games, completing 65 percent of his throws for 658 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Eagles have the ability to hurt teams with big plays. Kaufman has 19 receptions for 385 yards in the last two games. This season, the junior has totaled 1,635 receiving yards which is a new Big Sky and school single-season record.
Sam Houston State's defense should not be taken for granted. The Bearkats are stout against the run, allowing a mere 87 yards per game and just seven rushing touchdowns all season. The secondary is extremely talented and headlined by the hard-hitting Taylor twins, linebacker Darius and safety Darnell. Eastern Washington only averages 129 rushing yards per game, so don't expect much success on the ground. SHSU does give up 223 passing yards per game, however, ranking No. 75 in the FCS.
This is actually the second meeting between the two schools, the last came in the 2004 FCS playoffs. Sam Houston came all the way back from a 34-14 fourth- quarter deficit to steal a 35-34 victory. EWU coach Beau Baldwin was the Eagles' offensive coordinator in that game.
Offensively for Sam Houston State, running back Timothy Flanders (1,358 yards, 17 touchdowns) garners all the attention, and deservedly so. He averages 104 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry in 13 games this season. Richard Sincere is utilized as a dangerous pass catcher and in the team's "Wild Bearkat" formation. He averages 5.9 yards per carry and rushed for 505 yards this season.
Signal-caller Brian Bell directs all the traffic for coach Willie Fritz. The junior has thrown for 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions and his favorite targets are Trey Diller and Chance Nelson, who have accounted for a combined 14 receiving touchdowns this season.
EWU's defense gave up 520 yards of offense in the quarterfinals and teams have constantly undervalued the unit in general this year. Defensive end Jerry Ceja (12.5 sacks), linebacker Ronnie Hamlin (127 total tackles) and cornerback T.J. Lee (11 pass breakups) should prove to be great matchups for SHSU's speedy playmakers.
This is the second game this season for the Bearkats on a football field that is not traditionally colored green. The team's only FCS loss this season came against Central Arkansas - on gray-and-purple striped turf - on Sept. 22. EWU is 17-2 all-time on "The Inferno," its red turf playing field, and, amazingly, since 2010, the Eagles are 13-0 in games from Nov. 1 and beyond.
Keep an eye on special teams, as both schools have exceptional place-kickers in EWU's Jimmy Pavel and SHSU's Miguel Antonio. The two are tied for 18th in the FCS with 1.3 field goals per game and each has made 17 field goals this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Sam Houston State 40, Eastern Washington 37.
12/12 21:21:14 ET