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Courtesy: David Barfield
Playoff Experience Could Be Plus For Kats
Courtesy: Gene Schallenberg/Huntsville Item
Release: 12/07/2013
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BEARKAT SPORTS NETWORK SE LA PLAYOFF PREVIEW VIDEO

Of all the intangibles involved in Sam Houston’s NCAA Division I Football Championships second round playoff game Saturday at 7 p.m. in Hammond, La., the most obvious contrast is experience.

The Bearkats are a playoff savy team that has gone 6-2 while battling their way to back-to-back appearances in the national championship game in Frisco.

Southeastern Louisiana, a team that rolled 7-0 through the Southland Conference on the way to an undisputed title, is a playoff rookie. Tonight’s contest marks the first time the Lions will be dipping their toe into NCAA post season competition.

Head coach Ron Roberts of Southeastern Louisiana believes his team is ready and knows the Lions will face a fired-up Bearkat squad that knows how to bring playoff intensity.

 “We’ve got to be prepared to play a different team,” Roberts said early this week. “I think they’re going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder. These guys know how to turn it up in the playoffs and you could see that in the game film from last week.

“You’re going to have two teams going at it in a great playoff atmosphere. I think you’re going to see two teams slugging it out in a great atmosphere. I think either team can compete with anybody in the country.

“Our guys are going to have to play well. We’re going to have to play our best football. That’s what you’ve got to do in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is. You’ve got to play your best football right now because it’s win or go home. We’re looking forward to it and it’s going to be a great football game.”

Sam Houston held a 21-10 lead over the Lions late in the second quarter but surrendered an important touchdown just before intermission. The Kats were shut out in the second half of a 34-21 loss.

“We had a bunch of opportunities to make some big plays and we didn’t. I think on seven or eight plays, we gave up 274 yards,” Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said. “You just can’t win doing that. We’re going to have to limit their explosive plays and they’re going to have some. They’ve got some athletes. We’ve got to do a good job of just having our eyes in the right place and that’s really important with these guys.

“In the last ballgame, I thought we tackled really well. We’re going to have to tackle really well this week. They’re going to have some wrinkles, we’re going to have some wrinkles. Once you get into the meat and potatoes of the game, we’re both going to do what we do best. You lean back on what you’ve had success with.”

Sam Houston is coming off a 51-20 victory over Southern Utah in the opening round of the FCS playoffs last Saturday in Huntsville. Southeastern Louisiana has not played in 16 days after wrapping up their league title with a Thursday night victory over Nicholls and receiving a bye in the opening round last week with their No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

“Both of the past two years in the playoffs, we’ve struggled some in our first games after receiving a bye,” Fritz said of Sam Houston’s narrow playoff wins over Stony Brook in 2011 and Cal Poly in 2012. “You don’t know if that had something to do with the layoff or it was just that Stony Brook and Cal Poly both were excellent football teams.”

The Lions skipper discounts the effect of a week’s layoff.

 “I think that’s obviously a concern, but it’s Game 13 for us and it’s all about how we prepare this week in practice,” Roberts said. “If we have a good week of preparation, then I don’t think it’s going to matter.”

One thing is for sure. The Bearkat players are excited and ready for the rematch.

“It seems like it can’t get here fast enough,” Sam Houston senior receiver Torrance Williams said. “We’re all anxious, all ready to play.”

In order to win on the road for the first time this season and punch a ticket back to the national quarterfinals, the Bearkats know they contain Southeastern’s dual-threat quarterback Bryan Bennett.

“We’ve got to tighten up our coverage as well as our blitzes,” Bearkats linebacker Eric Fieilo said. “If everybody does their job, it will all take care of itself.”

Last Saturday, Sam Houston State, which entered the playoffs mired with a two-game losing streak, rallied after falling behind Southern Utah 10-0 and started clicking in its first-round contest. The offense frequently drove the field and scored touchdowns, while the defense kept the Thunderbirds from making big plays and forced drives to stall.

Playing in a big-time playoff atmosphere on the road doesn’t seem to matter much to the Bearkats, who took down No. 3 seed Montana State and No. 2 Eastern Washington last December in national quarterfinal and semifinal victories, respectively.

There was a similar-type atmosphere a few weeks ago when Sam Houston State last clashed with Southeastern and the Bearkats don’t expect for there to be much of a difference this time around at Strawberry Stadium.

“To us, the atmosphere doesn’t really matter,” Sam Houston senior receiver and Wild Bearkat specialist Richard Sincere said. “One thing Coach Fritz always says is that he doesn’t care if there’s 80,000 in the stands or if there’s eight people in the stands. It doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to come out and play Bearkat football at the end of the day.”

The Sam Houston-Southeastern Louisiana playoff game will be broadcast in the Huntsville area on KSAM radio 101.7 FM and on the internet on gobearkats.com . The game also will be telecast on the web on ESPN3.

Saturday’s winner will advance to the NCAA quarterfinals, facing the winner of the Maine versus New Hampshire second round game.

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