The amazing 13-0 run of the Sam Houston State football team plus the tremendous spirit generated by Bearkat fans, alumni and students have turned Elliott T. Bowers into the party place of Huntsville.
Capacity crowds have filled the stadium and sat on the nearby grassy hills to root on the Bearkats has they have rolled up a 34-27 victory over No. 22 Stony Brook in the second round and a 49-13 win over No. 7 Montana State in the quarterfinals.
Now the party continues as the Bearkats face an old playoff nemesis in the semifinals as they host the Montana Grizzlies Friday Dec 16 at 7 p.m.
Anyone who attended either or both of the NCAA playoff games will be want to be part of the party again December. To quote the old saying, a good time was had by all.
The parents of two former Bearkats were typical of the fans who gathered at the Bearkat Alley pregame tailgate Saturday for Sam Houston State's first playoff matchup since 2004.
Jim and Nancy Mosely of Houston used to attend Sam Houston sporting events pretty regularly when their daughter Stephanie spent four years helping lead the university's softball team to 115-102 record and an NCAA playoff appearance in 2007.
"We've been to every LaQuinta in the Southland Conference," Jim Mosely said with a smirk while sitting on the bed of his truck. "We come out here about twice a year now. We've been to the Battle of the Piney Woods the last couple of years. Our son Kyle graduated in August, but when we saw Sam Houston would be here for the playoffs, we knew we were coming."
With Sam Houston in the playoffs just two seasons after posting a 5-6 record, it was to be expected for more Bearkats and more orange to be present at the stadium than usual.
For the first time this season, the visitor's section - normally open to students for free with the presentation of their student identification - was full.
So great was the crowd support that, following the final gun of both games the football team rushed to the East stands and celebrated with the student section.
"Our crowd was so loud. That helped us big time," All-Southland Conference safety and league defensive player of the year Darius Taylor said. "It's a great feeling to have that kind of support."
Head coach Willie Fritz agreed.
"This is the loudest I've ever heard our fans," Fritz said whose team's No. 1 seed in the playoffs earned the Bearkats the home field advantage. "Playing at home in front of fans like ours is huge. We've had great support all year."
No team in the 96-year history of Bearkat football has gone 13-0. Sam Houston stands as the only unbeaten team in the NCAA Division I Football Subdivision and, counting the final two games of the 2010 season, owns a school record 15-game winning streak.
"This is probably the most exciting time for Sam Houston in my lifetime," said Don Burton, a 1988 graduate of the university and president of the Parent's Association. "For us, this is the pinnacle."
Burton's wife Sharon is also an alumni and member of the Parent's Association. Their daughter Meghan just received her Master's degree from Sam Houston in May, and is now employed by the university. The Burton's are fixtures at Bearkat home games, as the Parent Association tailgates at every event.
"The support of our fans at Bowers Stadium this season has been crucial to the Bearkats' success on the field in this great championship season," SHSU director of athletics Bobby Williams said. "Saturday's game day with Stony Brook and the second round victory was tremendous. We look for all those fans to return this weekend and any fans who missed the fun need last week need to come join the party for the quarterfinals.
"Sam Houston State has the opportunity to make a statement on a national level about what a great university and athletic program we have here. Our local Huntsville and Conroe area businesses have gotten behind the team and we thank everyone for their great support."
Of course, the lead story was Sam Houston advancing to Football Championship Subdivision semifinals to face Montana after prevailing over Stony Brook and Montana State.
The incredible run for the Bearkats continues.
University President Dr. Dana Gibson greeted the team in the locker room just before the post-game celebration began.
Gibson told the Bearkats that she was sure they would make it all the way.
Even though the moment is bound to come to an end at some point, whether it be a championship in Frisco or a disappointing loss, for now the lyrics of rapper Waka Flocka Flame are blasting through the locker room.
"It's a party, it's a party, it's a party."
NCAA DIVISION I FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
RESULTS & UPCOMING SCHEDULE
at Stony Brook 31, Albany 28
Central Arkansas 34, at Tennessee Tech 14
at Old Dominion 35, Norfolk State 18
at James Madison 20, Eastern Kentucky 17
at Sam Houston 34, Stony Brook 27
at Montana State 26, New Hampshire 25
at Northern Iowa 28, Wofford 21
at Montana 41, Central Arkansas 14
at Georgia Southern 55, Old Dominion 48
Maine 34, at Appalachian State 12
Lehigh 40, at Towson 38
at North Dakota State 26, James Madison 14
at Sam Houston 49, Montana State 13
at Montana 48, Northern Iowa 10
at Georgia Southern 35, Maine 23
at North Dakota State 24, Lehigh 0
Montana (11-2) at Sam Houston (13-0) - Friday, 7 p.m.
Georgia Southern (11-2) at North Dakota State (12-1) - Saturday 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, 12 noon
Football Ticket Information
Tickets for the quarterfinals football game are available on line now at www.gobearkats.com . The Sam Houston athletic ticket office located in the Bowers Stadium Field House will open at 8 a.m. Monday. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
General admission tickets are $15. Sam Houston students may purchase tickets at the discount rate of $5 thanks to the contributions of local Huntsville and Conroe businesses.
For more information, contact the ticket office at (936) 294-1729.