HUNTSVILLE - Brian Bell threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another as Sam Houston State beat Southern Utah 51-20 on Saturday in the first round of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Bearkats overcame an early 10-0 deficit in the first quarter and scored 30 straight points. Bell, playing despite a bruised shoulder injured Nov. 16 against Southeastern Louisiana, found Chance Nelson for a 32-yard touchdown pass play.
Nelson caught the ball inside the 10-yard line and avoided multiple defenders to fight his way to the end zone.
“I credit (Sam Houston’s) coaches and players for sticking with the plan,” Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb said. “When we took control of the game at 10-0, they went on a 75-yard drive sparked mainly by running the football, good balance and at the last second they have an uncanny ability to take half of a defender and run through an arm tackle.”
Keshawn Hill in the second quarter scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. Bell added a short touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the final minute of the second quarter. Luc Swimberghe with two seconds until halftime also connected on a 24-yard field goal.
Following a defensive stop, SHSU scored on its first possession of the second half on a 7-yard pass play to Ragan Henderson.
Then Southern Utah started making plays, particularly on defense. The Thunderbirds outscored the Bearkats in the third quarter, 10-7.
Timothy Flanders, the all-time Southland Conference rushing leader who had not gained 100 yards on the ground since the Eastern Washington game on Sept. 28, punched in a 2-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. Flanders finished with 177 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Flanders moved into a tie for fourth in FCS career rushing touchdowns with 65. His performance Saturday also gave Flanders 1,219 yards on the ground in just seven career games against Big Sky teams.
The Kats totaled 531 yards on offense, which included another 100-yard rushing performance by Keshawn Hill. Bell was 15-for-21 passing with 176 yards.
“We were able to run the ball effectively,” SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said. “I thought our running backs ran physical today. I thought our offensive line created some movement. When you do that, it enables you to also have an effective throwing game.”
Sam Houston moves on to the second round to face conference foe Southeastern Louisiana, the regular season champion that beat the Kats 34-21 three weeks ago in Hammond, La.
“The way I look at the playoffs, it’s just one game seasons,” Flanders said. “We just got done playing our first season. Now we’re going to Southeastern, season No. 2. Win or go home again.”