BOZEMAN – Brian Bell threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns and Sam Houston State cruised to a 34-16 FCS playoff quarterfinal win over third-seeded Montana State on Friday night.
The Bearkats (10-3) took advantage of Jon Ellis’ fumble on a first-down reception to take control of the game late in the third quarter. Montana State (11-2) had cut Sam Houston State’s lead to 20-9 on its first drive of the second half only to see the turnover set up a short field and a touchdown pass from Bell to Chance Nelson giving the Bearkats a 27-9 lead.
“That was a huge play,” MSU coach Rob Ash said of the fumble. “The crowd was just getting back into the game.”
Bell completed 11 of 21 passes and the 254 yards marked his third-highest passing total as a quarterback. Trey Diller had three catches for 104 yards. Nelson finished with five receptions for 89 yards.
The Bobcats were dealt a blow early when senior linebacker Jody Owens, the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year, was injured and didn’t return.
Montana State was also without its leading rusher, Cody Kirk, for most of the game.
Bearkats running back Tim Flanders had 106 yards on 31 carries.
Richard Sincere scored on a 12-yard run for the Bearkats in the second quarter. Diller scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass from Bell, and Miguel Antonio tacked on a field goal to complete the first-half scoring and give the Bearkats a 20-3 lead.
“He stuck the cornerback on that route,” Bell said of his TD pass to Diller. “I saw him wide open and I didn’t know where the corner went. I still don’t know where he went.”
Prior to that touchdown, Montana State saw a touchdown pass negated and ruled a penalty when DeNarius McGhee threw a forward pass to tackle Steven Foster. McGhee needed to lateral the ball.
Montana State was held to 72 yards on the ground.
Sam Houston advances to the semifinals to face the winner of today’s Eastern Washington and Illinois State game in Cheney.
Sam Houston State eliminated Montana State in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Last season, at home in Huntsville, Texas, the Bearkats routed the Bobcats 49-13.