Sam Houston led 35-0 at halftime, but quarterback Vernon Adams engineered an Eagle comeback as the Bearkats had to run out the clock on their final possession to earn a win by the margin of Miquel Antonio's 42-yard field goal.
The Bearkats will challenge the No. 1 ranked and defending national champion Bison Saturday, Jan. 5, at 12 noon at FC Dallas Stadium.
All-America running back Timothy Flanders rushed 34 times for 231 yards. His most important run, however, was a five-yard gain on third and three with less than a minute left.
The 231 yards was Flanders' second best rushing performance in his three year career. The junior with 25 100-yard rushing performances to his credit ran for 287 yards in last year's SHSU semifinal victory over Montana.
Richard Sincere added to Sam Houston's 399 yards, carrying 10 times for 69 yards. The two teams combined for 1,007 total offense yards and 87 points.
Adams completed 14 of 26 passes for 364 yards and six touchdowns, all the scores in the second half. Brandon Kaufman was on the receiving end of three of the scores, making nine catches for 215 yards.
Sam Houston picked off three EWU passes. Robert Shaw intercepted two, returning one for a touchdown. Dax Swanson's pick stopped a late EWU scoring threat and also set a new school record for career interceptions with 14.
The Bearkats also totaled six sacks, two by Jesse Beauchamp and one each by Darius Taylor, J. T. Cleveland, Preston Sanders and Jarrett Brown.
Bell put the game's first points on the board with a six-yard run to complete a nine-play, 64-yard scoring drive on Sam Houston's first possession of the game. The touchdown came with 7:34 left in the opening period. A 23-yard run by Flanders to the Eagle 15-yard line was a key play in the drive.
Robert Shaw put Sam Houston up 14-0, picking off a Kyle Padron pass and returning the interception 37 yards for a touchdown with 3:08 left in the first quarter. The interception was Shaw's sixth in his four-year career and the fourth steal he has returned for six points.
Eastern Washington drove to the Sam Houston 15-yard line but was forced to settle for a field goal attempt. Jimmy Pavel missed from 32 yards just 39 seconds into the second period.
Three plays later, on a third-and-two, Bell rolled left, kept on the quarterback option and dashed downed the left sideline for a 72-yard touchdown with 12:56 to play in the half. The run was Bell's longest as a Bearkat and the longest TD run for Sam Houston this season. Bell's previously long was a 54-yard score in the 2011 NCAA quarterfinals against Montana State.
Six minutes later Keshawn Hill took a pitch from Sincere around left end and dashed 15 yards into the end zone to put the Kats up 28-0 with 6:44 before intermission. The drive covered 48 yards in eight plays.
Shaw broke up a pass attempt on fourth down to give the ball to the Kats at the EWU 45. The Kats needed only three plays to score again, this time on a six-yard run by Sincere with 3:48 remaining in the second quarter. Flanders' 39-yard run to the six on the second play of the drive set up the score.
Sam Houston went into the locker room with a 35-0 lead.
A different East Washington team came out in the third quarter. First, Vernon Adams hit Greg Herd for a 31-yard touchdown to complete a seven play 79-yard drive.
Then Adams found Brandon Kaufman for a 22-yard score ending a six-play, 55-yard scoring march. A successful onsides kick set up a third TD pass by Adams, this time for 43 yards to Aston Clark to make the score 35-21 with 1:05 in the period.
Kaufman was the target for a 43-yard score with 13:08 to go in the fourth and, in just 15 minutes, EWU had cut the lead to 35-28.
Finally, the Bearkat offense got its mojo back, taking two minutes and 19 seconds to go 86 yards in five plays for a four-yard scoring pass from Bell to Shane Young. A 49-yard run by Flanders to the EWU three-yard line was the key play in the drive.
Adams picked up where he had left off, finding Kaufman for a 60-yard gain to the SHSU seven, then two plays later hitting Nicholas Edwards for a four-yard touchdown. The Eagles were back within a touchdown 42-35 with 9:48 to play.
Miguel Antonio increased the Bearkats' margin to 45-35 with a 42-yard field goal with 5:33 remaining. Sam Houston drove 36 yards in eight plays for the kick.
Adams again struck, hitting Kaufman for a 33-yard touchdown as the margin now was 45-42 with 3:04 to play.