In the 2011 NCAA playoffs, Sam Houston beat Montana State and then Montana to reach the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.
Just this month, the Kats outlasted Cal Poly in the second round of the FCS playoffs on Dec. 1 and then cruised past Montana State in the quarterfinals last Friday night.
Up next is another team from the Big Sky, the second-seeded Eagles of Eastern Washington, which is the only team left that can keep Sam Houston from returning to Frisco to play for a national championship.
“I know it’s going to be a good ball game,” Bearkats senior safety Mike Littleton said. “The two teams we played (from the Big Sky in the playoffs) were good teams. We just had a few bigger plays than those guys. We know we’ve got to do the same this week.”
Not only were the Kats (10-3 overall) able to beat a pair of teams from the Big Sky, but both Cal Poly and Montana State claimed a share of the league’s conference championship. Like the Mustangs and the Bobcats, Eastern Washington (11-2) also won a share of the Big Sky Conference title, which was split three ways.
“Everybody that is playing right now is good,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said following Monday evening’s short practice. “They have all won a bunch of games, they’re well-coached, so you got the best of the best playing against each other. That’s the great thing about having a tournament.
“The Big Sky is a quality league and Eastern Washington is a very, very, very good team. It’s kind of interesting that we’ll be playing them (in the regular season) the next two years, too.”
While the Big Sky has a claim as being one of the strongest conferences in FCS football, Sam Houston has a record of success against the league.
The Bearkats are 10-7 all time against the current members of the Big Sky: Cal Poly (1-0), Eastern Washington (1-0), Montana (2-3), Montana State (4-2), Northern Arizona (1-1) and Northern Colorado (1-1).
With a spot in the FCS national championship game on the line, the Bearkats look forward to increasing that winning streak to five games.
“I know a lot of people say that their conference is a lot tougher than our conference,” Littleton said. “It’s a big challenge to go and beat all three top teams like that, knowing that they say their conference is one of the best conferences. That would be a big accomplishment.”
Of the four teams that are still alive in the playoffs (No. 1 seed North Dakota State, second-seeded Eastern Washington, No. 5 seed Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State), the Bearkats are the only one which wasn’t seeded and have needed a complete team effort to fight their way back to the semifinals and position themselves for a chance to play for the national title.
“We do a great job of preparation. Our coaches, I think, do a great job with game plans,” Fritz added. “When you have success, it’s a lot of people involved with it. Our trainers do a great job. Our strength and conditioning program, our managers, our coaches and players believe in what we’re doing and they really do a good job in their preparation.
“Last week, we went up there (to Bozeman, Mont.) and the guys were very business-like in their approach to the game and that’s what you got to have.”
Sam Houston and Eastern Washington face off Saturday at 3 p.m. (Central time) at Roos Field in Cheney, Washington. The game will be telecast on ESPNU.
The winner of Saturday’s semifinal meets the winner of the North Dakota State versus Georgia Southern semifinal in the national championship game in Frisco at FC Dallas Stadium Saturday Jan. 5.