Thanks to a strong first half along with some big plays on both sides of the ball in the second half, Sam Houston was able to take care of Montana State again to the tune of 34-16.

The Kats advance to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs next week against the winner of tonight's game between Eastern Washington and Illinois State.

"Like coach (Willie) Fritz said, we came in here, had a great week of practice and we were really focused on the plane ride up here," said Bearkats quarterback Brian Bell, who passed for 254 yards and three touchdowns.

"Coach always tells us it's a business trip," Bell added. "We're not here to have fun. We're here to take care of business and get a win and get back home and move onto the next round. That's what we did tonight."

Thanks to solid performances by both the offense and defense, Sam Houston (10-3 overall) was sitting comfortably on top at halftime with a 20-3 cushion. Just like in the last meeting, the Bobcats struck first in the third quarter with a touchdown on an 8-yard run by quarterback DeNarius McGhee and looked to get themselves in position to make a game of it.

Due to a missed point-after try, the Bobcats could only get to within 20-9.

"It's just like (defensive coordinator Scott) Stoker says, 'If something bad happens, you've just got to drop it and go. There's still time left to play. You've got to finish the game in every aspect and we did a good job of that,'" Kats defensive tackle Gary Lorance said.

Again, the Bearkats made big plays when it counted the most and were able to pull away.

After having to punt the ball away in Montana State territory, the Bobcats appeared to convert a first down on third-and-5 as McGhee connected with wide receiver Jon Ellis beyond the first-down marker.

But senior cornerback Dax Swanson made a play on the ball and stripped it free from Ellis' hands. SHSU junior defensive end Andrew Weaver recovered the loose football on the Montana State 16-yard line.

Bell found wide receiver Chance Nelson in the end zone on the next play to put the Kats up 27-9 with 2:49 to play in the third.

"That was huge. That was a huge momentum swing for us," Lorance said. "I feel that's what propelled us in the later part of the game and kind of open it up a little bit more."

A short while later, Sam Houston effectively put the game out of reach. Facing third-and-16 from the Bobcats' 45, Bell hit a wide-open Nelson down the seam for another touchdown. That put the Kats up 34-9 with a little more than 12 minutes to play.

"It was just a little post corner," Nelson said. "The (offensive) line blocked great. I tried to get open and Bell made an incredible throw."

Montana State, the No. 2 team in the country and the third seed in the FCS playoffs, added a touchdown with 5:25 to go, but couldn't draw any closer than 34-16.

After playing to a 3-3 stalemate in the opening quarter, the Bearkats offense started to get cranking.

Sam Houston quickly moved down the field on a 21-yard pass from Bell to Trey Diller, then gained 27 more yards on a run by running back Timothy Flanders to get to the Bobcats' 24-yard line.

A few plays later, Kats wildcat specialist Richard Sincere gashed past the Montana State defensive line on a keeper, scoring a 12-yard touchdown to put Sam Houston up 10-3.

A few minutes later, the Bearkats struck again as Bell hit a wide-open Trey Diller, who put a move on the defensive back and shed him, in the middle of the field. Diller reeled in the ball and took it the rest of the way for a 56-yard catch-and-run strike.

"Trey's a great route runner," Bell said. "He went in there and stuck the corner a little bit. When I was dropping back there, I didn't see the corner anywhere. I don't know where he went. I still don't know where he went.

"I just saw Trey running wide open and he made a great catch. I had great protection on that play, too."

Defensively, the Kats, after allowing the Bobcats to march 62 yards before holding them to a field goal in the first quarter, buckled down and made it difficult on the Montana State offense.

In the final three possessions of the first half, the Sam Houston defense limited the Bobcats to three-and-outs and 13 total yards.

In the final minutes before intermission, the Bearkats made their way into Montana State territory again. Thanks to a 27-yard grab by Diller and a 17-yard run by Flanders, the Kats were inside the red zone.

Sam Houston did a good job working the clock, keeping the Bobcats from getting another possession in the first half, and was able to get a Miguel Antonio field goal out of the drive to go into the break with a comfortable 20-3 advantage.

"We did a great job with clock management there, knowing we were going to get the ball back first to start the second half," Fritz said. "I would've liked to get a touchdown there, but getting some points was good."

Now the Bearkats will eagerly watch today's game between Eastern Washington and Illinois State to see which team they'll face next in the semifinals. Kickoff for that game is set for 5 p.m. and will be available to watch online on