Sam Houston State Bearkats win 31-28 againts Griz. Despite remarkable comeback, Montana Grizzlies fails to beat Sam Houston State University in the semifinal round. Details!!!!!
Griz comeback falls short 31-28 to Sam Houston State
One pass, one stop, one field goal.
The Montana Grizzlies could’ve gotten one or the other or all three Friday and possibly survived the talented and top-ranked Sam Houston State Bearkats. Instead a valiant Griz comeback fell short, 31-28, in front of 12,367 fans in the semifinal round at Bowers Stadium.
Tim Flanders ran for a career-best 287 yards and a touchdown as the Bearkats improved to 14-0 and earned a trip to the Jan. 7 Division I Football Championship game at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
Flanders had help. An 11-yard scoring run from quarterback Brian Bell gave Sam Houston the lead for good before the game was five minutes old; Bell’s scoring passes to Grant Merritt and Trey Diller made it 28-7 late in the first half.
But Flanders was the biggest beast for the Bearkats on this night. He ran for 66 yards – including a 22-yard burst on fourth-and-1 – while Sam Houston ran the final 6 minutes off the clock.
“He’s a great running back,” said Griz linebacker Caleb McSurdy, whose 61-yard interception return cut Sam Houston’s lead to 28-14 at halftime. “He’s got tremendous lateral quickness. That was the biggest surprise or adjustment – that he can move as fast sideways as he could forward.”
For all that, the Griz had their chances.
A first-quarter drive ended in Brody McKnight’s first missed field goal in 17 tries – from 48 yards into a stiff wind. The Griz had another drive end on downs at Sam Houston’s 5 early in the second period.
And after they closed to 31-28 with Jordan Johnson’s 54-yard scoring run with 11:26 left, the Grizzlies had a shot at the lead and drove to midfield.
There, on third-and-11, Johnson’s into-the-wind bomb to Jabin Sambrano fluttered short. Montana punted, and a defense that had been stellar in the second half couldn’t get the ball back from Flanders and the Bearkats.
“I thought we would, but you can’t leave it up to the defense,” said Johnson, a sophomore who had a 30-yard scoring pass to Sambrano for UM’s first points, at 6:27 of the second quarter. “It was my fault for under throwing the ball. When plays are there you’ve got to make them.”
“We marched down very well and threw the long ball that caught up in the wind a little bit,” said UM coach Robin Pflugrad, whose club ended up 11-3. “That was disappointing, because we had it open. That’s as close as it got.”
It was almost all Griz in the second half, save for one mid-third quarter play: The Bearkats blitzed and caught Johnson on the exchange, the ball popped loose and Sam Houston recovered at the Griz 8.
While the UM defense held, Craig Alaniz’ 25-yard field goal at 6:58 of the third quarter provided the difference.
It looks bigger when coupled with UM’s failure on a fourth-and-1 QB keeper in the second quarter.
“Looking back it probably does look like, ‘Wow, we need those points,’” Pflugrad said. “I think the philosophy at that point of the game was we needed some momentum, we needed some confidence, and that’s what we tried to do to get it.”
Sam Houston was unstoppable in the first half, with Flanders rolling up 194 yards by himself.
The Bearkats also won the turnover battle 3-1 – another bad exchange, at Sam Houston’s 35-yard line, led to Bell’s first scoring pass and a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
It was fortunate the Grizzlies were as close as they were at intermission. McSurdy’s TD, off a pass he batted, offset a Johnson interception. There was a minute left.
“Obviously we weren’t playing well on all fronts at the time,” said Pflugrad. “To get a spark like that and really, what a tremendous player he is. I think the doubt we had at that time was put to bed. I think our players really rallied around that interception. It was a very positive locker room at halftime.”
The Griz held the Bearkats to just two first downs in the second half before that final possession.
Johnson threw for 277 yards and ran for a team-high 64 for the Griz, who are now 7-4 in FCS semifinal games.
Sam Houston gained 383 yards rushing.
Safety Matt Hermanson had 13 tackles for the Griz, who also got a 3-yard scoring run from fellow freshman Jordan Canada.
Sambrano, one of 24 Grizzly seniors, had three catches for 72 yards in his final game.
“That’s why this loss hurts so bad, they put in a lot of blood sweat and tears for the University of Montana,” Pflugrad said. “Both on the field, community service wise and in the class room. It’s a tremendous loss for this senior class. I can’t say enough about those guys.”
By the numbers
SamH: Bell 11 run (Alaniz kick), 10:36.
SamH: Flanders 69 run (Alaniz kick), 6:00.
SamH: Merritt 20 pass from Bell (Alaniz kick), 1:42.
Mont: Sambrano 30 pass from J.Johnson (McKnight kick), 6:27.
SamH: Diller 27 pass from Bell (Alaniz kick), 2:15.
Mont: McSurdy 61 interception return (McKnight kick), 1:00.
SamH: FG Alaniz 25, 6:58.
Mont: Canada 3 run (McKnight kick), 3:36.
Mont: J.Johnson 54 run (McKnight kick), 11:26.
RUSHING: Montana, J.Johnson 11-64, Canada 7-13, Sambrano 1-12,
Nguyen 8-10, Moore 5-4. Sam Houston St., Flanders 26-287, Sincere 9-49,
Wilson 5-30, Bell 9-25, Team 2-(minus 8).
PASSING: Montana, J.Johnson 21-33-1-277. Sam Houston St.,
RECEIVING: Montana, Moutra 4-33, Sambrano 3-72, Carver 2-44,
Middleton 2-32, Canada 2-27, Moore 2-26, S.Gratton 2-13, Hardy 2-9,
Warren 1-14, Saylor 1-7. Sam Houston St., T.Williams 3-36, Diller 2-33,
Merritt 1-20, Standley 1-11, Pride 1-7, Blanton 1-5, Wilson 1-1.
(FRITZ NEIGHBOR Of The Missoulian – BillingsGazette.com)