No. 7 North Dakota State (7-2, 5-2) at No. 4 Sam Houston (7-0, 6-0)
When: 2 p.m. Sunday at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
The Matchup: This game could set viewership records for FCS football.
North Dakota State is the Alabama of FCS football. That may not be fair to the dominance of NDSU. The Bison have won eight of the past nine FCS championships including three straight titles.
The Bison have been nearly unbeatable in the FCS playoffs owning a 37-2 record. NDSU has a 14-1 overall record against teams from the Southland Conference including a 39-28 win over Central Arkansas last October.
"No one respects them more than us,” Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. “When you talk about the best programs in the country, you talk about Mount Union (NCAA DIII), Alabama, and North Dakota State."
NDSU is 5-1 all-time against Sam Houston.
Their lone loss in the series came on the North Dakota State’s only trip to Bowers Stadium, 48-45 setback to the Kats in the 2009 playoffs.
SHSU and coach Keeler have some impressive records of their own.
The Kats are 15-0 in home playoff games at Bowers Stadium while Keeler has won all 28 home playoff games in his career. Keeler is two playoff wins away from tying former Youngstown State coach Jim Tressell for the all-time lead in FCS playoffs.
"We built this team offensively and defensively to play James Madison and North Dakota State,” Keeler said. “We're built to try and match up against North Dakota State it will be interesting to see how well we've done this week.
"We have to get first downs and when we have the opportunities to score touchdowns, we have to make the play because we'll only get so many opportunities. We need to keep our offense on the field a bit more this week."
Clear your schedule on Sunday afternoon - you do not want to miss this game.
Players to Watch:
NDSU - Dominic Gonnella, RB, Fr, Riverview, Fla. (Bloomingdale HS)
Hunter Luepke, FB, So, Spencer, Wis. (Spencer HS)
James Kaczor, LB, Jr, St. Cloud, Minn. (St. Cloud Tech HS)
Jackson Hankey, LB, Jr, Park River, N.D. (Park River HS)
SHSU - Ramon Jefferson, RB, Jr, Bronx, N.Y. (Maine)
Eric Schmid, QB, Jr, The Woodlands, Texas (The Woodlands HS)
Jequez Ezzard, WR, Gr, College Park, Ga. (Howard)
Trace Mascorro, DL, Sr, Refugio, Texas (UTEP)
Key to Victory: This game will be decided in the trenches.
North Dakota State is dealing with injuries along its offensive line and had four freshmen make their collegiate debut in the first round of the playoffs last week.
That did not slow the Bison down much with NDSU plowing through Eastern Washington for 422 rushing yards in a 42-20 win.
The young offensive line will be tested this week being on the road in an energized stadium against one of the top defensive lines in the country.
"They're different,” Keeler said. “We're blessed to have the extra day because it's almost like going up against a triple option offense. What they do is unique - we don't see it in our league.”
SHSU has held 15 of their past 19 opponents under 100 total rushing yards and has not allowed an individual to gain over 100 yards in a game since the 2019 season opener, a stretch of 18 games.
"Every offensive lineman they have would be all-conference in our league and any league in FCS. When it comes to the guys up front, they're a different animal at North Dakota State and that's what makes them so challenging."
Prediction: This game will be a brutal and physical battle. NDSU is a champion for a reason and showed they will not be an easy out in the playoffs.
Sam Houston struggled against a solid Monmouth squad last week before the defense made a late stop to seal the win.
I have not picked against SHSU this season and now is not the time to start.
Sam Houston by 2
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