HUNTSVILLE, Texas, Nov. 30 – Early on it looked like Southern Utah might have what it took to advance in the NCAA Division I football playoffs but host Sam Houston State – which has played in the last two NCAA championship games – got it going late in the first quarter and went on to score 30 unanswered points to end the Thunderbirds’ first football trip to the post-season, 51-20.

“You’ve got to give Sam Houston State credit,” SUU Coach Ed Lamb said. “I thought we started out well on defense but they just kept pecking away. Their coaching staff and players kept pecking away. They found a way to run the ball on our defense and that’s taking it right at our strength, so give them a ton of credit offensively and defensively for slowing us down.

“We had a couple of chances there to get back in the game, get aggressive on offense, and we just kept stalling out in the red zone,” Lamb added. “1I’m extremely proud of our players, there’s no shame in losing, especially to a great team like Sam Houston. The only shame would be to do it without class, to quit trying and our guys continued to try, continued to fight the whole game in a classy way.”

The Thunderbird defense held the Bearkats in check through the first 12 minutes of the game, forcing punts after three plays on the first three SHSU drives and holding them without a first down until the 3:30 mark of the first period.

In the meantime SUU took a 10-0 lead, getting on the scoreboard first on a 42-yard Colton Cook field goal with 5:19 to play in the first quarter. After a short Bearkat punt SUU was able to go up 10-0 after Aaron Cantu and Anthony Norris hooked up on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 3:36 to play in the quarter.

Sam Houston finally got a first down on the initial play of the ensuing drive, however and that seemed to start the ball rolling for the Bearkats. They drove 75 yards in six plays to pull within 10-7 on a 32-yard pass from Brian Bell to Chance Nelson and the Bearkat defense stifled SUU for the rest of the half.

Meanwhile the Bearkat offense started clicking. Sam Houston took a 13-10 advantage on a direct snap to running back Keshawn Hill, then added a touchdown and a field goal in the final minute of the half to take a 23-10 lead at the break. The scores came on a 1-yard Bell run and a 24-yard field goal as time expired in the half.

The Bearkats held SUU on fourth-and-four on the Thunderbirds first drive of the second half, then drove 59 yards for another touchdown and a 30-10 lead when Bell hooked up with Raga Henderson on a 7-yard pass.

Southern Utah drove inside the Bearkat 20 yard line on its ensuing drive but two incomplete passes and a false start led SUU to settle for a 38-yard Cook Field goal that finally broke the SUU scoring drought and brought SUU back within 30-13.

The Thunderbirds made it a 10-point game after James Cowser sacked Bell and Robert Torgerson picked up a the ball and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to pull the Thunderbirds within 30-20 with 4:46 to play in the third quarter.

Southern Utah couldn’t stop the Bearkats on their next three drives, however, and were unable to put any more points on the board

Timothy Flanders, who was just the second player to rush for over 100 yards against the Thunderbirds this season, ran two yards on the first play of the fourth period for the 64th career rushing touchdown of his career to give SHSU a 37-20 advantage, however, the added another touchdown on a one-yard dive over the pile with 7:57 to play. Flanders moved into eighth place on the NCAA career rushing touchdowns list with the run and finished with 176 rushing yards for the game.

Hill joined Flanders in the 100-yard rushing club with a two-yard touchdown run with 5:10 to play in the game that gave the Bearkats a 51-20 lead. He finished with 101 yards and Bell added 54 as the Bearkats ran for 355, the highest rushing total against SUU this season.

-- SUU --