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FCS PLAYOFF ROUNDUP: Second-seeded Sam Houston State holds off 10th-ranked Monmouth, 21-15, advancing to the NCAA FCS quarterfinals to host perennial national powerhouse North Dakota State

HUNTSVILLE — Despite jumping out to a 21-0 lead, second-seed Sam Houston State needed a last-minute interception to hold off 10th-ranked Monmouth and advance in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.

On fourth-and-goal with 48 seconds remaining, Bearkat junior Isaiah Downes came up with an interception to preserve a 21-15 victory over Monmouth in the opening round Saturday at Bowers Stadium.

With the win, Sam Houston State (7-0) advances to host the perennial FCS national champion North Dakota State Bison (7-2) at 2 p.m. Sunday in Huntsville’s Bowers Stadium.

Although these two teams are no strangers in the postseason, something will have to give in the national quarterfinals. North Dakota State (7-2), winners of eight of the last nine FCS national titles, goes on the road for playoff game for the first time since 2010, while the Bearkats (7-0) enter the contest 14-0 in FCS postseason games played at Bowers Stadium.

With that said, these two teams have met four times in the FCS playoffs with the Bison winning all four — the first two to win the 2011 and 2012 national titles, the third in the 2015 semifinals, and the fourth in the 2017 semifinals. But the last time North Dakota State played in Huntsville, the Bison lost in 2009.

Against Monmouth, the Bearkats build a 21-0 advantage through three quarters as running back Ramon Jefferson scored two touchdowns, while quarterback Eric Schmid connected with wide receiver Cody Crest for another score.

Monmouth (3-1) finally got something going offensively in late in the third quarter, mounting a 17-play, 90-yard drive resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run by Juwan Farri and a two-point conversion reception by Gene Scott with 13:09 left in the game.

And the Hawks weren’t done yet. Monmouth got a defensive stop and marched right back down the field for an 86-yard scoring drive when quarterback Tony Muskett hit Terrance Greene for a 30-yard score. Another Monmouth defensive stand gave them a chance to win it in the final minutes as the Hawks drove down to the SHSU nine-yard line and faced a fourth down with 56 seconds left in the game. But Muskett threw it right into the arms of Downes to seal the win.

The Sam Houston State defense proved to be the key even though the Hawks outgained the Bearkats, 398-257, in total offense. But the Bearkats came up with two turnovers, 16 tackles for a loss and six sacks.

Sam Houston struggled offensively for most of the first half despite having the lead. That finally changed in the final three minutes. Jefferson led the Sam Houston offense with 98 yards on nine carries, while Schmid completed just 12 of 24 passes for 133 yards.

Sam Houston continues its quest to win their first national championship since earning one as a NIAA program in 1964. Sam Houston State has advanced to the FCS national championship game twice, losing to North Dakota State in both 2011 and 2012.

In other FCS first round playoff action, No. 1 seed South Dakota State (6-1) crushed Holy Cross (3-1), 31-3; third seed James Madison (6-0) slipped by VMI (6-2), 31-24; fourth seed Jacksonville State (10-2) rolled over Davidson (4-3), 49-14; Southern Illinois (6-3) edged Weber State (5-1), 34-31; North Dakota (5-1) dominated Missouri State (5-5), 44-10; Delaware (6-0) survived against Sacred Heart (3-2); 19-10; and North Dakota State (7-2) eased past Eastern Washington (5-2), 42-20.

The 2021 FCS Championship Game will take place on May 16 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.


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