HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Long after the lightning storm had passed, Sam Houston State kept bringing the thunder.
With all-everything running back Timothy Flanders leading the way, the Bearkats ran to a 49-34 win over Eastern Washington in a high-profile nonconference game Saturday evening.
In the end it was Flanders and the fourth-ranked Bearkats who raised their profile in the Football Championship Subdivision, and are sure to move up after dominating the Eagles defense for the second time in as many meetings.
After a 78-minute storm delay that cleared players and fans from Bowers Stadium, Sam Houston State used the same formula that worked so well in last year’s 45-42 FCS semifinal win in chilly Cheney: run Flanders until the Eagles cheated up, then sting the Eagles with the long pass.
“They did a good job, and they are a very good offense,” said Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin, whose team is 2-2 and has lost two games in a row for the first time since early in the 2011 season. “They’ve put up a lot of points on a lot of people. But from our standpoint, it’s a whole team issue – offense, defense and special teams.
“We have to find little things that we need to improve on, and there is plenty. We can say we fought hard, but the bottom line is we have to get better.”
For this game, the second-ranked Eagles knew what was coming, but sometimes didn’t see it until Flanders was into the backfield. The senior finished with 280 yards on 32 carries, surpassing his 231-yard effort last year in Cheney.
“I love it,” said Flanders, who was just 7 yards short of his personal record of 287 yards in an FCS semifinal win over Montana in 2011. “It’s one of those things where the defense is going to have to stop one of us. If they stop me, I know I’ve got guys outside we can throw the ball to.”
Led by Flanders and wildcat specialist Richard Sincere, who had 98 yards, the Bearkats threw just eight passes, yet rolled up 556 yards of total offense.
“Their offense was really tricky,” Eastern safety Tevin McDonald said. “(Flanders) did a great job of just squirting out of nowhere and testing our leverage and our ability to keep the ball inside and off the sidelines.”
Flanders did just that early in the third quarter. Leading just 28-20 after forcing an Eastern punt early in the second half, Flanders ran off-tackle to the right and found a wall of Eagles defenders. But he quickly shifted direction, and with no defenders to meet him, dashed up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown that put Sam Houston (4-1) ahead 35-30.
McDonald and cornerback T.J. Lee III combined for 21 tackles as Flanders repeatedly broke into the defensive backfield. Linebackers Ronnie Hamlin and Cody McCarthy had just six apiece.
The Eagles responded with their best sustained drive of the game, an eight-play, 75-yard march capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Demitrius Bronson. That cut the lead to 35-27, but Bearkats quarterback Brian Bell’s final pass of the day found wide receiver Torrance Williams alone in the end zone for a 60-yard score.
“I think it was a couple of small mistakes on our part, but the couple of times that we weren’t disciplined, they scored on us,” Eastern defensive tackle Dylan Zylstra said.
After forcing another punt – Eastern’s fifth – Sam Houston State all but iced the game with an eight-play, 74-yard drive capped by Flanders’ 12-yard touchdown run with 6:10 left in the game.
Meanwhile, the Eagles offense gained 496 yards, but for the second time in a row struggled in the middle quarters. Vernon Adams threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns, but was sacked twice. He completed 19 of 31 passes.
“We left a few plays on the field,” said Texas native Cory Mitchell, who sparked the Eagles early with a long kickoff return and a 48-yard reception to the Sam Houston State 3 on Eastern’s first possession.
Mitchell, the younger brother of former Eastern quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, led the Eagles with six catches for 102 yards.