Lost among all the headlines generated by Sam Houston's offense that ranks as the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision's second-highest scoring offense is the Bearkats' senior kicking specialist Miquel Antonio.
Two weeks ago, Antonio finally got his moment in the spotlight during the Bearkats' second-round FCS playoff game against Cal Poly presented one of those rare moments.
Antonio was sent out to attempt a 26-yard field goal with a little more than three minutes remaining and the Kats leading by six points.
A successful kick would put his team up two scores and make it highly unlikely for the Mustangs to mount a successful comeback with so little time; a miss would give Cal Poly new life.
The senior, however, was locked in, calmly booting the ball through the uprights to make it 3-for-3 on field goals for the afternoon and provide what proved to be the winning points Sam Houston State's 18-16 victory at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville.
"To me, it was just another kick," Antonio said.
Antonio's confidence and performance in 2012 show an impressive turnaround for his hard luck season in 2011 when, as a junior, he missed seven of his 12 field-goal attempts, including four from 29 yards or less, and was relieved of his kicking duties after seven games.
Senior Craig Alaniz was handed the job and made 12 of 13 field goals to help Sam Houston State finish 14-1, leaving the strong-legged Antonio to handle only kickoffs.
Antonio, however, worked out the mental and mechanical problems during the offseason and in preseason camp and emerged as a changed kicker for his final collegiate season.
Through 13 games, Antonio has made 17 of 21 field goals and 66 of 67 point-after attempts for a total of 117 points to rank as the Southland Conference's leading scorer. Antonio also ranks 14th in the FCS in scoring at 8.9 points per game and received an All-SLC honorable mention honor two weeks ago.
Antonio missed his first point after attempt of the year in the season opener against Incarnate Word but has connected on 66 straight attempts since.
Antonio's much improved accuracy has made him a valuable offensive weapon for the Bearkats (9-3), who play No. 3 national seed Montana State (11-1) in the FCS quarterfinals Friday night at Bozeman, Mont.
"He's had a very nice season for us," Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. "We always knew he had the talent, but oftentimes in kicking, it has to do with the mental aspect of the game, and he's done a really good job of approaching everything in a mature manner."
Antonio's strong leg also has benefited the Bearkats on their kickoff coverage. He has an SLC-leading 26 touchbacks, including three against Cal Poly.
On field goals, Antonio is 8-of-10 from 20 to 29 yards and 6-of-7 from 30 to 39 yards, with a long this season of 42 yards. His 3-for-3 performance was his second such effort this year. The other came Sept. 15 in a 48-23 loss at Baylor.
Last week he put Sam Houston's first points on the board in a 34-16 quarterfinal victory at Montana State and added a second field goal later in the gam.
"The biggest thing I've seen this year (with Antonio) is confidence in himself," special teams coach Robby Discher said. "This year, he knows he's going to make it. He has that look in his eye that gives (the coaches) confidence and gives his teammates confidence in him. He truly thinks he's a good kicker, and he is a good kicker."
Antonio was recruited to Sam Houston State in 2009 after a stellar four-year career at Lovelady High School and earned the kicking job as a freshman. He made 12 of 20 field goals that season, including a career-long 48-yarder.
The next two seasons produced their share of high and lows for Antonio, but he is ending his run on a strong note. At 298 career points and counting, he will finish his career as the No. 2 all-time scorer in program history. Antonio's 160 career extra-point conversions are a school record, and his 48 career field goals broke the all-time SHSU mark set by Billy Hayes from 1985-88.
"Going into my senior year, I told myself that I've got to finish strong," Antonio said. "Every senior's been thinking the same. Some of us will not even play the game again, so we're just trying to make the best of it."
Next up for the Bearkats is their NCAA Division I Football Championships semifinals encounter with No. 2 seeded Eastern Washington Saturday at 3 p.m. (Central) in Cheney, Washington. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
The winner of the semifinals advances to the National Championship finals in Frisco on Saturday, Jan. 5. No. 1 North Dakota State and Georgia Southern meet Friday in the other semifinal.