FRISCO - SHSU has been dubbed the “Cardiac Kats” during a playoff run that has felt improbable at times.
Sam Houston may trademark the phrase following this game after the Kats secured the first FCS national title in school history with an incredible 23-21 victory over South Dakota State.
"What an amazing effort by these kids,” Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. “The last four weeks have come down to the last drive of the game, and it did not surprise me that it came down to the last drive today."
“Right now, it's still surreal. I just know that right now I'm feeling very blessed to be a part of this,” Bearkats defensive lineman Joseph Wallace said. “Right now, I'm still in shock. It's hard for me to even comprehend what just happened. It's a blessing ultimately.”
In a game that saw more twists and turns than a John Grisham thriller, SHSU quarterback Eric Schmid completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ife Adeyi with 16 seconds remaining in the game to complete another comeback.
“You're talking about the ultimate game, and you have to make one last drive,” Keeler said. “You talk about a warrior and a guy that is so calm under pressure, and you’re talking about Eric. That's why we felt we were going to be fine on the last drive because we have a trigger man that is capable physically and emotionally of making the drive."
"I'm kind of still in shock,” Schmid added. “I was elated knowing that we went down and picked up the touchdown when we needed to. It's tough to express my emotions right now.”
The game began in a driving rainstorm, with both teams struggling to maintain possession in the wet conditions.
The Jackrabbits took advantage of their opportunities for an early 7-0 lead, but the Kats responded to tie the game at seven apiece when a lightning delay halted play in the second quarter.
"How fitting is it for us to go and play in a game like this where you might get delayed,” Keeler said. “We knew the rain was probably not going to be our friend, but we embraced it."
"We've dealt with stuff like this all year,” Schmid said. “We were joking in the locker room that it had to be this way for us to win. We knew we'd battle through the adversity."
When play resumed more than an hour later, the Bearkats took control, scoring the following 10 points in the game for a 17-7 lead that felt like more than SDSU could overcome.
Jackrabbits freshman running back Isaiah Davis was not going to allow Sam Houston to win with ease. Davis scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give SDSU a 21-17 lead with 5:41 remaining in regulation.
"They wore us down a little bit, but they also had us out of sync because their quarterback got hurt, and we did not prepare a game plan to play against the No. 2 quarterback,” Keeler said. "Their running backs are phenomenal, and their offensive line is the best we saw all year."
“First of all, we had to go back to what Coach Carlin taught us, just be us. We understood that we put in the work, we put in the time,” Wallace added. “We learned the playbook like the back of our hands like we were supposed to do for Sunday, and I feel like we got a little overwhelmed at some points, but at the end of the day, we got the win.
Schmid led the Bearkats down the field, converting two fourth-down conversions before converting the national title-winning play.
Before the final fireworks, Kats wide receiver Jequez Ezzard was phenomenal.
Ezzard got SHSU on the board with a 35-yard touchdown reception. He added a 15-yard touchdown reception late in the first half.
He nearly had another touchdown on a long punt return before a block in the back penalty negated the score.
"I can't say enough about Jequez,” Schmid said. “He's a quiet guy that goes out and works every week. He's a tremendous playmaker for us, and I can count on him anytime to make the play, and that's what he did today."
The Bearkats have a quick turnaround before defending their national title in the Fall after the unusual Spring season.
Thoughts of a fall season will wait for a few weeks while the Bearkats take their celebration and trophy from Frisco to Huntsville.
"It's immortality,” Keeler said. “For the rest of our lives and beyond that, Sam Houston is the national champion."
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