A&M game closes out regular season
Against any team, especially ones as athletically gifted as Texas A&M, giving up turnovers and poor field position finds a way to come back to haunt.
The Aggies took advantage of a pair of late first-half turnovers and used that to beat Sam Houston 47-28 in front of 87,101 fans at Kyle Field.
"We came into this game with high expectations, but of course it didn't come out like we wanted to," Bearkats linebacker Jesse Beauchamp said. "We busted some assignments down the stretch when we really needed them and they kind of ran away with it a little bit. Once they got started, it was hard to stop them."
Following the game's opening possession in which Texas A&M, which is ranked ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision and No. 8 in the BCS standings, scored after converting a fourth down from inside the Kats' 10, Sam Houston's defense was able to contain the Aggies and Heisman-Trophy hopeful Johnny Manziel over the next couple of drives.
That provided an opening for the Sam Houston offense to put up a few points and take the advantage.
Three times, the Kats (8-3 overall) had the ball around midfield, including a starting field position inside of Texas A&M territory, but they couldn't do anything with it.
On its initial drive, Sam Houston converted a pair of third-and-longs until the possession stalled just inside Aggie territory. Then after holding A&M to negative-1 yard and forcing the Aggies (9-2) to punt from their own end zone, the Kats took over on the A&M 47, but went three-and-out after three consecutive incompletions.
With more advantageous field position, starting at its 47, Sam Houston went three-and-out again and squandered another chance to score points and cut into the deficit.
"It was very frustrating," Kats head coach Willie Fritz said. "I think an overlooked area for A&M is their defense. They've vastly improved and did a really nice job of playing the option, being where they needed to be. We had some three-and-outs and got the ball right around midfield, but you've got to convert points. They did a very nice job."
In the latter part of the second quarter, Sam Houston trailed 14-0, following an 11-yard connection from Manziel to wide receiver Mike Evans, and looked to build off a strong defensive performance against the Aggies' shifty freshman quarterback and a promising offensive start.
That's when the Kats started to hurt their own cause and allowed Texas A&M to pull away.
Twice in three possessions, Sam Houston coughed up the ball when Aggies linebacker Donnie Baggs intercepted a Brian Bell pass and two possessions later, linebacker Sean Porter recovered a fumble by utility man Richard Sincere.
Texas A&M took over inside the red zone because of both of those turnovers and scored quickly to extend its lead to 34-0 before halftime.
"That was big for us," Kats wide receiver Trey Diller said. "It's hard to turn over the ball and two or three plays later they score and answer back. In an environment like this, it's loud and you get the momentum going against you."
Even with the five-touchdown cushion, Manziel's day was not done. He hit senior wideout Uzoma Nwachukwu down the sideline for a 89-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the Aggies' first offensive play of the second half. Manziel then attempted the extra-point kick but missed, leaving the Kats in a 40-0 hole.
The Aggies led by as much as 47-0 as Texas A&M, with backups in the game, continued to throw downfield.
That's when the Bearkats offense found a way to finish off drives.
Sam Houston running back Timothy Flanders kept the Kats from being shut out after capping an 18-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown dive late in the third.
After recovering the ensuing onside kick, the Bearkats scored again on a 9-yard touchdown from Bell to his tight end and former Aggie K.J. Williams.
The scoring didn't top off once Sam Houston's reserves started to take some snaps as running back Ridgeway Frank and quarterback Chris Grett broke through for rushing TDs.
"I thought we ran the ball well, we threw the ball all right and got some guys in there and executed the triple option," Fritz said. "It was good. We were able to control the clock. I saw some good things running the football in that last quarter, especially."
With the regular season in the books, the Kats have eight wins, including seven over FCS teams by an average of more than 40 points. All they can do now is wait and see if they've done enough to be included in the 20-team playoffs.
"First thing I'm going to do is check up on Montana State (16-7 victors over rival Montana). I'm going to check that," Diller said. "(Top-ranked) North Dakota State won, (sixth-ranked) Georgia Southern got beat by Georgia (45-14) and (ninth-ranked) Wofford got beat by South Carolina (24-7).
"I hope that they don't base this loss and hold it against us. It's up to the committee. I think they'll look and they'll see that we're a top five team.
"We all think that no matter who you put us up against, I feel like any team in the country we can beat. If we go out and execute the way we're supposed to and the way we're capable of, I feel there's no team that can hang with us. We'd like to get home-field advantage and we'd like to face a lower-seeded team, but right now it's win or go home."
The FCS Football Championship Selection Show airs today at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.