'The Throw': Inside Sam Houston's national championship winning play

Zac Byrd

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FRISCO -- Down four points with 21 seconds left in the FCS National Championship game, defensive line coach Siddiq Haynes glanced over at defensive tackle Joseph Wallace on the sidelines. 

“Watch this,” Haynes told Wallace. “We’re going to win.” 

It wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. The Bearkats faced 3rd-and-goal from the 10-yard line with the national championship on the line after giving up a dramatic 85-yard rushing score to South Dakota State running back Isaiah Davis. Quarterback Eric Schmid had to run to convert a late 4th-and-1 just to have this opportunity. 

Maybe it was withstanding a late run from eight-time national champion North Dakota State two weeks ago. Maybe it was coming back from 24-3 against No. 1-ranked James Madison last week. Maybe it was a culmination of a year of COVID-19, no locker rooms, doing laundry at home, the ice storm – and yes – back-to-back disappointing years. 

Regardless of the reason why, Sam Houston was ready to rise to the moment. 

“You would think for us going into the last drive of the season for the national championship, there would have been some panic on the sideline,” Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. “There was resolve.”

Offensive coordinator Ryan Carty dialed up four verticals from a trips left formation with a running back angle attached. Quarterback Eric Schmid’s job was simple: Find the open receiver. It’s backyard football, the kind of play kids dream of running on the streets with their friends. 

South Dakota State sat back in a zone. With 10 yards to travel, the Jackrabbits were well aware that Schmid had to throw all 10 yards or risk facing a brutal 4th-and-10. They had no interest in leaving the game up to chance. If Sam Houston was going to win, they were going to have to take it. 

“Our defensive call was good,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said. “Maybe six inches closer, we knock the ball down or knock it up and someone intercepts it.” 

But this day was not South Dakota State’s. It was Eric Schmid’s. Schmid stepped up in the pocket with defensive ends closing in and picked his matchup. Everyone in the stands' eyes went straight to title game MVP Jequez Ezzard, who had 10 catches and two scores to that point.

Schmid stayed patient. He saw the safeties angle to Ezzard, but Ife Adeyi running free in the middle of the field. Then, the SDSU defenders saw it too. Three defensive backs closed in on Adeyi at the goal line. 

It didn’t matter. Schmid threw what will go down as the greatest pass in the 109-year history of the Sam Houston Bearkats. 

“It was a bullet,” Keeler said. “I mean, he threw a bullet, and it was right to Ife’s chest. He was going to chance that thing going anywhere else.”

Adeyi caught the ball, fell into the end zone through multiple tacklers and ran to his sideline with his hand in the air. Sam Houston took a 23-21 lead. 

Said South Dakota State cornerback Don Gardner: “It was like a dagger in the heart right there.” 

By Brandon McAuliffe

South Dakota State had one last chance to win the game after a long kick return, but a lateral play was quickly sniffed out at midfield. Sam Houston rushed the field as time expired and the celebration was on. 

“Nobody ever doubted on the sideline,” Wallace said. “We all knew what was about to happen.” 

Schmid finished the day with 209 passing yards, 54 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was a career-defining moment for one of the gutsiest quarterbacks to ever walk through the program. 

As Schmid sat in postgame interviews, there was little indication that the junior quarterback understood that he just pulled off a throw that will be played on repeat for the next 100 years in Huntsville, Texas. 

“I don’t know if it really clicked,” Schmid said with a smile. “I was just elated really, knowing that we went down and picked up the slack when we needed to. I just can’t even express my emotions.”

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