HUNTSVILLE - In a meeting between two of the top-ranked Football Championship Subdivision teams in the country Saturday, No. 4 Sam Houston State beat No. 2 Eastern Washington, 49-34.
SHSU running back Timothy Flanders ran for 280 yards, two touchdowns and became just the 22nd back in FCS history to record 5,000 career yards on the ground. It was the second-best career performance for Flanders, who ran for a career-high 287 yards against Montana in the 2011 FCS playoffs.
Flanders now has three games in his career rushing for more than 200 yards, two of which have come against Eastern Washington. The senior running back ran for 231 yards against Eastern Washington last year in the semifinal playoff round.
Brian Bell completed just four of eight pass attempts, but two of those went for touchdowns of 18 and 50 yards, respectively.
“I love it. It’s one of those things where the defense is going to have to stop one of us,” Flanders said of the running and passing attacks. “If they stop me, I know I’ve got guys outside we can throw the ball to. That really helps. We threw the ball great tonight, so going into conference play, teams are going to have defend both (the run and the pass) and that’s when we really get rolling.”
Both offenses jumped out to strong starts with each scoring a touchdown in the first three offensive plays. Richard Sincere, lined up in the read option set, faked the handoff to running back Timothy Flanders and took a 51-yard run to the end zone.
Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams responded with a pass in the middle of the field to Cory Mitchell, who went for a 48-yard reception down to the SHSU 2-yard line. The Eagles took the lead with a 33-yard pass play to Ashton Clark.
But the Kats dominated the second quarter. Bell kept the ball on a read option play to score from eight yards out. De’Antrey Loche intercepted a pass by Adams and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown.
“They had been running (the play) all game and I knew it was matter of time before they were going to throw that to me,” Loche said. “So I was just waiting for the opportunity.”
Bell and Williams connected for an 18-yard touchdown pass with just 21 seconds to play in the second quarter.
Cooper Kupp caught a 59-yard pass from Adams earlier in the quarter and the Kats took a 28-20 into halftime.
SHSU picked up where it left off after intermission. Flanders scored on a 60-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. After Eastern Washington running back Demitrius Bronson rushed for a three-yard touchdown, Bell and Williams connected for another score, this time on a 50-yard pass.
“We’ve got Flanders running the ball so it really opens up the passing game,” Williams said. “Me and Brian have really just been focusing on our long ball all season, since I got back in the spring and summer. The big guys up front are doing an excellent job of protecting. We like how it’s going.”
Flanders ran for his second touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter, taking it from 12 yards out.
The win improves the Kats record to 4-1. For the Eagles (2-2), it’s the first loss of the season against a non-FBS opponent.
“Eastern Washington is quality football program,” SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said. “I enjoy watching them compete and competing against them. I’d rather not have them be as good as they are. I really enjoy watching how their kids act and behave and how they play. We’re very happy about this victory because that’s a darn good football team.”