It was a moment that would decide the season for Sam Houston.
Bearkats sophomore Darrel Hawkins-Williams laid motionless on the field after delivering a big hit on a kickoff return.
Down by 13 points, how the Bearkats players handled watching their teammate leave the field on a stretcher would decide whether their season would end on Saturday.
The response was exactly what the Bearkats expected, rallying around their teammate by scoring the following 21 points to defeat James Madison 38-35 in the FCS semifinals.
"All signs look good. That was a helluva hit,” Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. “That was emotional. I got emotional because these kids mean so much to us. When you see a kid go down like that, it's hard, and it was really hard.
"The guys talked about seeing a guy putting his body on the line to make a play, and if he could do that, why can't we all do that?"
"He made a big hit,” SHSU wide receiver Jequez Ezzard said. “We sacrifice our bodies for our team. I'm praying for my boy to get healthy."
"We wanted to play for him. We're a family, and you hate to see something like that,” SHSU quarterback Eric Schmid added. “We'll be praying for him. Sounds like things are going good right now, so this one was for him."
Sam Houston advances to play No. 1 South Dakota State in the national championship game next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
All three phases played a role in the remarkable turnaround from a 21-point halftime deficit.
Ezzard took the game in his hands to start the third quarter, taking a pass from Schmid 69 yards for a touchdown and returning a punt 80 yards for a touchdown to bring the Kats within three points.
"I was trying to make a play for the team,” Ezzard said. “It's just instincts and making a play. I try to take a good angle and make them miss to get in the end zone."
"We have a lot of options to get him the ball when he's one-on-one. When I see him in man coverage, I have a lot of faith he's going to get open like he did today,” Schmid said. “He made two big plays to put us right back in the game. We have to keep finding him ways to get the ball."
The defense forced turnovers on the next two JMU possessions, and Schmid showcased his running ability scoring two touchdowns to give SHSU control of the game 38-27 with 12:16 left in the fourth quarter.
"We've done a pretty good job winning the turnover battle in these playoff games, and that's something that has to continue against South Dakota State,” Keeler said.
"We came out of the halftime focused on taking the ball away and winning on third down,” Bearkats defensive lineman Jahari Kay said. “They had the momentum going into the half, and we had to get the momentum back. We were able to stand up to the challenge."
The first good news from Saturday was positive reports on Hawkins-Williams, who was transported to the hospital for precautionary scans. The second good news was a tremendous comeback victory.
Hopefully, all remains clear, and Hawkins-Williams is celebrating with his teammates before preparing for the national title.
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