Junior linebacker Tristan Eche knows what a challenge the Bearkat defense faces this weekend when Sam Houston takes on No. 5 Villanova in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.

John Robertson, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. He has accounted for 3,924 yards total offense and had a hand in 46 touchdowns while leading the Wildcats to an 11-2 record this season.

“It’s tough going against a quarterback like him,” Eche said. “It changes your game plan and your reads because you always have to account for him. You just don’t know what he has up his sleeve.”

Robertson has rushed 227 times for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is averaging 82.9 yards per contest. He also has completed 197 of 301 passes for 2,846 yards including 35 scores. He has only thrown three interceptions in 13 games.

“Villanova’s offense is run around their quarterback,” Eche said. “He’s a great quarterback and if we stop him we will be able to have a pretty good game. When you have a dangerous dual threat quarterback, you have to make sure you keep him contained because any time he can throw the long ball or just take off running for a long gain. You just have to have your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed.”

Eche has been part of a Bearkat defensive unit that has come on strong at the end of the season to help propel a seven-game winning streak that includes playoff victories over No. 9 Southeastern Louisiana and No. 3 Jacksonville State.

The junior from Waco High School ranks as Sam Houston's second-leading tackler this year with 84 stops including 34 solo tackles. Eche has posted 12 tackles for yards and five sacks. His interception last week at Jacksonville State set up a Bearkat touchdown.

“It feels really good to still be playing football,” Eche said. “When we started 1-3 a lot of people doubted us. But it’s great to still be in the locker room and practicing every day with a great goal

Down at halftime last week at Jacksonville State, the defense came out the second half and held the Gamecocks scoreless for the final 30 minutes in a 37-26 victory.

“Coach told us at halftime that we had a good game plan. We just had to execute,” Eche said. “We didn’t tackle very well in the first half. But we just together as a defensive squad and were able to shut them out in the second half.”

Sam Houston was picked to finish third in the 2014 preseason polls but ended the regular season earning the program’s third Southland Conference championship in the past four years. Now the Kats are in the FCS quarterfinals, just as they were in 2011 and 2012 in route to the FCS national championship game.

“It’s not hard to believe we’re in the quarterfinals. I’ve always had faith in our team,” Eche said. “With the veteran guys on our team that’s just our attitude. We believe we’re an elite team. A national championship is our goal. We never gave up on that. We fought and clawed to get into this position and we just have to keep fighting because there hasn’t been anything given to us.”

Kickoff Saturday at Villanova is at 12:03 p.m. Huntsville time. The game will be telecast live on ESPN3. On radio, KSAM 101.7 FM will carry the game in Walker County.