The mental and physical grind of the 2020-21 FCS season is over. From whether the fall season was going to happen or not, to postponing to the spring, to whether the spring season was going to happen, to whether the spring season was going to finish while the subdivision dealt with COVID cancellations involving top teams, to the stress of teams having to do COVID testing every week and never knowing when the virus could hit them … it all came to a conclusion with No. 2 seed Sam Houston beating No. 1 South Dakota State in a thrilling 23-21 game to win the national championship.
The Bearkats showed mental toughness and resilience for the fourth-straight time this postseason, capping a magical season filled with heart-stopping moments.
They intercepted a pass on fourth-and-goal with 48 seconds left to beat Monmouth 21-15 in the first round. Against FCS juggernaut North Dakota State in the quarterfinals, they overcame two special teams touchdowns to score with four minutes left, then got a fourth-down stop in their own territory to seal the game and win 24-20. Last week in the semifinals, the Bearkats were down 24-3 at halftime to James Madison, only to come roaring back and win 38-35.
Against SDSU in the title game, SHSU allowed two long touchdown runs to Isaiah Davis in the fourth quarter as the Jackrabbits took a 21-17 lead. SHSU came up clutch again. As calm as ever, Eric Schmid found Ife Adeyi for a 10-yard TD pass with 16 seconds left to win it 23-21.
“During the course of this playoff run, we had to manage moments every single game,” SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler said. “All four games came down to either getting a defensive stop or getting an offensive touchdown or both where we had to get a touchdown and then a stop. The guys on the sideline were amazing. You would think for us going into the last drive of the season for a national championship, there would have been some panic on the sideline. There was resolve.”
Schmid showed guts, getting hit constantly by a ferocious SDSU pass rush but getting up every time, even if it was slow. He had clutch throws and runs while getting the ball into the hands of the FCS’ top playmaker Jequez Ezzard. Ezzard scored two touchdowns in the second quarter.
“You talk about a warrior and you talk about a guy who just is just so calm under pressure and just doesn’t panic,” Keeler said. “I think that’s why a lot of us felt that we were going to be fine on that last drive because we have a trigger man that is capable, not only physically but emotionally, to make that last drive.”
It’s the first FCS national championship in SHSU program history. And Keeler became the first person to win FCS titles at different schools as a head coach (Delaware, 2003).
“I’m just going to remember how we battled week in and week out,” Schmid said. “The stuff that we went through all year, I’m just grateful that we made it to this point, and I’ll remember every week that we had … It’s a big deep breath because we’ve been battling the past four weeks, so we’re definitely going to enjoy it tonight and enjoy it for the next week or so, but we have another season coming up in the next three months, so we’ll be ready for that.”