For the No. 1 game of the decade, we go back to football for a game that is no doubt one of the most thrilling in Sam Houston State history, much less the last 10 years. In the 2004 NCAA I-AA playoffs, the Sam Houston Bearkats rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to knock off Eastern Washington.
The final play of the game was one everyone who was there or watching the game on TV will remember as Dustin Long hit Jason Mathenia for the game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock.
The following is the game story that ran in the Huntsville Item the next morning:
originally published Dec. 5, 2004
By Jason Barfield
The Huntsville Item
CHENEY, Wash. - Left for dead on a cold winter night at Eastern Washington's Woodward Stadium, the Sam Houston State Bearkats came to life and rallied from 20-points down in the fourth quarter Saturday to win 35-34 on the game's final play.
For the first time in school history, SHSU has advanced to the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs, where they will face the Montana Grizzlies next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Missoula, Mont.
All season, quarterback Dustin Long has talked about how much he enjoyed throwing the ball to Jason Mathenia. He proved it Saturday night, completing four straight passes to his junior receiver in the final minute of the game, including a 7-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock. Lance Garner then kicked the extra point, giving the Bearkats their only lead of the game with it counted the most.
"What do you say? That was obviously a terribly exciting win," SHSU head coach Ron Randleman said. "I think that was the greatest comeback I have ever been a part of, and I have had some pretty exciting ones."
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Bearkats rally to beat
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After a blocked field goal by Vince Cartwright with less than a minute left in the game, Long and the SHSU offense had just 43 seconds and no timeouts to move 75 yards. It took the Kats a few plays to get going, moving just nine yards on the first three plays and using nearly 20 seconds. On fourth down, Long hit Corey Roberts for a 12-yard gain to keep hope alive.
Then the Long-to-Mathenia show started. Long hit Mathenia for gains of 12, 19 and 16 yards to move the Bearkats to the Eastern Washington 7-yard line with just two seconds remaining on the clock.
Just like he had done on the three previous plays, Long looked Mathenia's way one last time, and hit him on a slant about five yards deep in the end zone to tie the game. Garner's kick sealed the game for the Kats and earned them a rematch with Montana, which came to Huntsville in September and lost to SHSU 41-29.
"We have played together all year, and that is what we did on the final drive," said Mathenia, who was in tears as the players stormed the field. "Dustin called those plays all the way down the field. On the last play we just went to the play that had worked all day."
Mathenia said there was no doubt in the huddle the Kats were going to win the game.
"We have come too far to let it end today," Mathenia said. "The last play seemed like it took forever, but I just tried to run the route like I have been taught and it worked out."
Long, who struggled in the first half, busted loose in the final 30 minutes of play. After throwing for just 101 yards in the first half, Long finished the game with 478 yards on 38-of-61 passing.
"We really didn't do anything different," Long said. "We just came out in the second half and started dinking it down the field, and we had some pretty long drives there in the second half.
"We knew we just had to give ourselves a chance to throw it in the end zone. We wanted to just get to the 40 or 50 so we could throw a Hail Mary," Long said.
Mathenia was the biggest recipient, catching 13 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
"That second half by our offense, Dustin played as good as a guy can play," Randleman said. "Big catch after big catch by receiver after receiver and then that last drive was all Mathenia."
The final drive would not have been possible had Cartwright not kept their hopes alive with the block. EWU lined up for a potential game-clinching 37-yard field goal with less than a minute to play. Cartwright, a 6-foot, 5-inch receiver who never plays on special teams, was called into action.
"I was on the sideline, and at the last second (safety) Paul Donelson asked coach to put me in there," Cartwright said. "I lined up straight up on the kicker and I just jumped as high as I could. We didn't want to go down without a fight and it just hit me in the chest."
Eastern Washington got on the board first in the first quarter on a 1-yard run by Lars Slind. His touchdown capped a 14-play, 78-yard drive. The kick was no good, putting the Eagles up 6-0.
The two teams traded punts for most of the second quarter before the Eagles caught a break with less than two minutes to play. Kicking from his own end zone, SHSU punter Curtis Parks hit a kick off the side of his foot for a 17-yard punt. It took the Eagles just three plays to get in the end zone on a 5-yard scamper by Darius Washington with less than a minute to play in the half to put the Eagles up 13-0.
The lead could have been more if not for an EWU fumble inside the 5-yard line on the game's first drive, and a Greg Brown interception deep in SHSU territory later in the first quarter.
The Bearkats got on the board on the opening drive of the second half. After a horrendous opening 30 minutes for the SHSU offense, Long marched the team right down the field like he had done all season.
Long completed a pass to Fuller for a 14-yard gain to pick a first down on third-and-long. Three plays later, he completed a pass across the middle to Cartwright for a 21-yard gain, once again on third down.
Then the Kats got the benefit of a pass interference call near the goal line. A play later, Fuller made a leap into the end zone.
But the Eagles answered right back with a 13-play, 81-yard drive to go back up by 13 at 20-7. Quarterback Erik Meyer capped the drive with a keeper for his first rushing touchdown of the season.
On the next possession, Long was intercepted for the second time in the game. On the next play, Washington sprinted up the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown run.
The Bearkats didn't take long to respond. Long hit Mathenia on a short pass. The defensive back went for the interception and fell down, leaving nothing between Mathenia and a 69-yard touchdown.
After a score by Eastern Washington on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Eagles were up 34-14 and seemed in control of the game. But Long engineered a pair of long scoring drives to put the Kats in contention.
He hit Corey Roberts for a 34-yard score, capping a 10-play, 70-yard drive with 11:04 left to play in the game.
Then, with 3:34 left to go, Robert Garmon dove into the end zone on an 8-yard run to finish off a 15-play, 84-yard drive.
The Kats will now head to Missoula, Mont., to see a familiar foe. It will be the second meeting between the Grizzlies and the Bearkats this season and the Kats second trip to Missoula in two years.
"It is just such an honor to get to the final four," Randleman said. "We look forward to going to Montana. We have enjoyed a rivalry with those guys. It is a class program and a great football team."