In the Bearkats' 14-0 run to the NCAA Division I Football Championship finals and a league title in 2011, Sam Houston earned nine of those victories at home in Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
But 2012 is different. After a couple of teams backed out of games with SHSU during the winter, the Kats played at home only three times during the regular season. Sam Houston hit the road for eight contests.
"We've built up a lot of confidence about our ability to win on the road this year," Bearkats senior offensive lineman Kaleb Hopson said. "Especially when the defense doesn't allow the other team to score, we can go out and make things happen and that just builds confidence for the offense. Being on the road, we basically get separated from everybody, so we can focus on the game itself."
That confidence will be an important factor for the Bearkats whose goal is to return to Frisco January 5 for the national title game. After winning another road game last Friday in Bozeman, Montana, where Sam Houston defeated No. 4 ranked Montana State 34-16, the road now leads through Cheney, Washington where Sam Houston must battle No. 2 ranked Eastern Washington at 3 p.m. (Central time) Saturday.
The contest will be featured nationally on ESPNU. The telecast marks the seventh time in the past two years the Bearkats have received national exposure for both the athletic program and the university on the ESPN family of networks.
"We know we'll be playing in front of great fans in a packed stadium and a hostile environment," defensive end Andrew Weaver said. "But we've already experienced that and know what to expect. We played in front of 87,000 at Texas A&M and more than 35,000 at Baylor. Last weekend, we battled in the cold before 17,000 at Montana State before another noisy crowd. It's going to be loud the whole game. All these road games this year have helped us prepare for this moment. We'll know to zone it all out, play it one play at a time and stay calm and relaxed."
Eastern Washington and Sam Houston are meeting for the second time in both universities' football histories. The Bearkats defeated the Eagles in the 2004 NCAA quarterfinals 35-34 on a cold and icy night in Cheney.
EWU is the No. 2 seed in this year's FCS playoffs and defeated Montana State 27-24 in Bozeman during the Big Sky Conference regular season.
Sam Houston started the season 1-2, dropping road contests at Baylor and Central Arkansas. But the Kats have gone 9-1 since with six of those wins on the road and the only loss to BCS No. 8 Texas A&M.
"We really hit our stride in Southland Conference," head coach Willie Fritz said. "We particularly played well in those final five conference games, the best we've played in all three phases maybe since I've been here. I'm very proud of our guys, the way they have reacted to playing so many games on the road."
The winner of Saturday's game will advance to the NCAA Division I finals in Frisco against the winner of the North Dakota State versus Georgia Southern game.