Sam Houston RB set to face stingy ND State defense
By SCHUYLER DIXON
FRISCO, Texas (AP) Sam Houston State running back Tim Flanders will be the target of a stingy defense that has already shut down one high-powered option attack in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
No big deal for the Kansas State transfer. He played late in a blowout loss at Baylor just days after stepping onto the campus in Huntsville, Texas, last year. And he was so good that night, he's been the starter ever since.
Flanders and the Bearkats (14-0) will face North Dakota State (13-1) on Saturday in the first FCS championship game appearance for both teams.
"If we get hot with our running game, it's going to be a very good game for us," Flanders said. "Every game we've started out hot with the running game and everything else just fell in place for us."
The sophomore from Midwest City, Okla., broke a 60-year school record with 287 rushing yards in a semifinal win over Montana.
A repeat of that doesn't seem likely against the Bison, who held the nation's second-best rushing offense to just 187 yards - 137 below its average - in a 35-7 semifinal victory against Georgia Southern. North Dakota State clearly enjoyed the return of safety Colton Heagle, who had 15 tackles after missing the rest of the playoffs with a thumb injury.
"In this last game, he got hot," Flanders said of Heagle. "In the first 10 plays, he had like nine tackles. He's very good."
Flanders has shown some flashes himself. He made a national highlight show earlier this season when he hurdled a defender and did a front flip into the end zone on one of his 22 touchdown runs. He didn't quite stick the landing like Jerome Simpson of the Cincinnati Bengals a few weeks later, but his teammates mobbed him nonetheless.
"I think people underestimate his quickness and how fast he can move his feet," Sam Houston quarterback Brian Bell said. "He probably isn't the top speed, fastest guy on our team, but he's probably got the fastest feet on the team."
The Sam Houston offense starts with Flanders but doesn't end there. When Montana State held him to 38 yards in the quarterfinals, Richard Sincere had a season-high 160. Sincere was the leading rusher three times, and Bell ranks second nationally in quarterback efficiency for an offense that averages 15 yards per catch and has 22 receiving touchdowns.
"Tim's obviously going to get a lot of carries because he's a great running back," said offensive lineman Travis Watson. "But we like to mix it up and put Richard back there (in the wildcat formation) or throw the ball with Bell as much as we can just to keep people guessing."
Sam Houston's top-ranked scoring offense (39.1 points per game) will be matched against the No. 1 scoring defense in FCS. The Bison are allowing just 13.2 points per game, and Heagle is joined in the secondary by Marcus Williams, who has seven interceptions, one shy of the school record.
Up front, North Dakota State is anchored by linebackers Chad Willson and Preston Evans and defensive end Coulton Boyer, who has nine sacks and 12 1/2 tackles for loss.
"They are a very physical team. Both sides of the ball," Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. "I don't think anybody can get here not being physical."
Updated January 5, 2012