With a rare second chance at a national title on the line, for the Bearkats it's only fitting that they'll have to beat the team today that kept them from a championship last year in order to see it come to fruition.
"I would just say that this is a special opportunity, especially to get the same team twice. That doesn't happen very often," Sam Houston senior center Chris Rogers said. "A lot of us are very lucky to be in the situation that we're in. We'll never get a chance to put pads on again after this day, so we're going to leave it all out there and see what happens."
In the 2012 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game, the Bearkats found out the hard way what can happen when they run up against a defense every bit as stingy as their own. Each of Sam Houston's running backs were held to less than 100 yards and the Kats could only muster a pair of first-half field goals against the Bison.
"I know myself, I struggled a little bit last year in the game. I had injuries, and I know I've gotten better as a player, but I think we also have gotten better as a team," Bearkats senior offensive lineman Riley Smith said.
"We learned that we need to be able to be more than just a run offense, and I think we've bettered ourselves in the passing game. The new offense that we're running - no huddle - it's been a huge change. Then again, it's not really that different because a lot of our offense is the same, we just pass the ball a little bit more, which as an offensive lineman I know it's a little more fun to pass block than it is to run block."
With a more effective passing game thanks to the addition of the no-huddle offense, the Bearkats have become better balanced and more explosive in both the running and passing games. That has caused fits for opposing defenses, especially in the playoffs as the Kats have scored 97 points (32.3 per game) and compiled 1,202 total yards (400.6 per game) in second-round, quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Big Sky Conference champions Cal Poly, third-seeded Montana State and second-seeded Eastern Washington.
"Sam Houston is a team you really have to prepare for," North Dakota State safety Bobby Ollman said. "They have a lot of different formations. We've had a few weeks to prepare, so we pretty much got to go over everything possible that we could go over. I feel really confident in this game that we'll finish on top again.
"They run a lot of new stuff, but a lot of the same stuff, too. They've got a lot of returners. We've prepared so much."
While the Bearkats' offense can produce explosive plays, North Dakota State bases much of its attack on running the ball between the tackles and chewing as much time off the clock as possible. The Bison have found a way to win 13 of their 14 games this season because of running backs Sam Ojuri (955 yards and 10 touchdowns) and John Crockett (956 yards and nine TDs) as well as mobile quarterback Brock Jensen (313 yards and nine scores).
Considering that North Dakota State throws for just 168.6 yards per game, what the Bearkats and their second-ranked run defense want to do is to contain the Bison backfield.
"We've got to get sound. We've got to look after our responsibilities, and they've got to count on you to do that," Kats senior linebacker Darius Taylor said. "We've got to get sound and everybody do their job, and if you do that, everything takes care of itself."
Along with putting points on the board, what the Bearkats have excelled at is forcing momentum-swinging turnovers.
In Sam Houston's three playoff victories, the Kats have forced eight turnovers (three recovered fumbles and five interceptions), while the offense has coughed up just one fumble on a surprise onside kick at Eastern Washington in the semifinals.
"They are an extremely talented bunch of guys," Jensen said of the Sam Houston defense, which limited the Bison to 235 yards in the 2012 NCAA Division I Football Championship game. "They play really hard, really fast. They never take plays off. They're very sound, always where they need to be. They rally really well to the football and that should make for a great game. We've got a great team as well, so it'll be fun."
If the Kats continue their ball-hawking ways against the Bison, that could go a long way toward Sam Houston bringing home a national championship.
This season, North Dakota State has shown a propensity for turning the ball over (eight interceptions and six lost fumbles), including the quarterfinal playoff game against Wofford in which NDSU lost a fumble and had a Jensen interception returned for a touchdown.
Five of the Bison's 14 turnovers that have come off of four interceptions and one lost fumble by Jensen were returned for scores.
"As far as takeaways, I feel like that's something that coach preached," Kats All-American safety Darnell Taylor said. "He preached that every day. I feel like our team now is a team that we feel like we know if we need to stop, we can do that."
With how closely last year's championship game was fought - the first two-score advantage came in the fourth quarter - the Bearkats don't expect anything different this time around.
"They, by and large, have a lot of similarities between what we are doing this year and what North Dakota State did last year, but I think in games, championship games, it's going to be very important to start fast," Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. "Turnover and takeaway is also always very, very critical.
"Our motto this season is finish. I believe it's going to come down to the fourth quarter. Whoever plays better in the fourth quarter is going to win the national championship."
Sam Houston State vs. North Dakota State
NCAA Division I Football Championship Game
FC Dallas Stadium, Frisco, 12 noon
Bearkats are 11-3; Bison are 13-1
KSAM (101.7 FM)
Radio 610 in Houston (DailGlobal National Broadcast)
Post Game Ceremonies ESPN3
Sirius XM -- Sirius Channel 93, XM Channel 198