After a one-hour, 11-minute lightning delay, Sam Houston State completed its perfect 10-0 season as the Bearkats came away with a 23-21 victory in a rainy FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas on Sunday.
Quarterback Eric Schmid found Ife Adeyi for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left to play to save the Bearkats' season and claim the title.
Running back Isaiah Davis had a major fourth quarter to save South Dakota State, which fell short in its first-ever championship game appearance.
Eric Schmid, QB, Sam Houston: 20-for-37 passing, 209 passing yards, 54 rushing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Jequez Ezzard, WR, Sam Houston: 108 yards, 10-for-14 receiving, 2 TD
Ife Adeyi, WR, Sam Houston: 73 yards, 5-for-9 receiving, game-winning touchdown
Isaiah Davis, RB, South Dakota State: 178 yards, 14 carries, 3 TD
Jequez Ezzard Does It Again
The Bearkats struggled to make things happen from the start. After fumbling their first possession, they looked to punt the ball away after a turnover on downs. But amid the messy conditions, Matt McRobert fumbled the ball and fell on it at the Sam Houston 19-yard line, setting up strong position for the Jackrabbits to double their 7-0 advantage.
Luckily for Sam Houston, South Dakota turned the ball over on downs, too.
Sam Houston got its chance late in the first quarter when three false-start penalties had SDSU punt the ball away. On the return, Jequez Ezzard found the end zone, but the Bearkats were called for an illegal block in the back on the return and the score was erased, setting the stage for a 7-0 South Dakota State lead to continue into the second quarter.
Ezzard made up for it early in the second quarter, putting Sam Houston on the board with a 35-yard score.
The score came just before the lengthy weather delay midway through the second quarter.
Ezzard, who was the hero in the Bearkats' comeback victory against James Madison in the semifinals, scored again to cap a nine-play, 74-yard drive that left South Dakota State with just 1:21 left in the half.
But after five plays, Sam Houston got the ball back on a Quentin Brown interception.
The weather's impact on the game was noticeable, as a Sam Houston team that entered Sunday averaging 450 yards of total offense per game was limited to 164 yards in the first half.
After two incomplete passes to Ezzard on the final drive of the third, the Bearkats decided to look elsewhere and had Seth Morgan nail a 45-yard field goal to make it a 10-point lead with 12 minutes to go.
But once South Dakota finally figured him out, Schmid had little else to turn to, and the Jackrabbits nearly ran away with the win until he found Ife Adeyi in the end zone with 16 seconds left.
Isaiah Davis' Big 4th Nearly Saves South Dakota
It didn't long for the Jackrabbits to face trouble. The hero of South Dakota's story went to the sidelines on the team's opening drive.
Quarterback Mark Gronowski, who was the conference's offensive player of the year and finished second in voting for the Jerry Rice Award as the top FCS freshman, hobbled off the field after an incomplete pass.
Backup quarterback Keaton Heide saw time in 2019 but had thrown just two passes this season. He took the field on their next drive and led the team to the end zone, where Isaiah Davis had a one-yard rush to give his team the lead. Cole Frahm's kick was good for a 7-0 lead.
Gronowski returned to the sidelines and had a headset on, marking the end of his day and putting the ball in Heide's hands.
South Dakota had the ball coming out of the lengthy weather delay midway through the second quarter, but the field goal attempt that would have put them up by three was no good.
After Sam Houston doubled its score, South Dakota had a chance to close the deficit with under two minutes to play in the half. But Heide was picked off to end the charge.
A combination of weather and losing their best passer led the Jackrabbits to just 119 total yards of offense in the half, 75 of which came on the ground.
The South Dakota State defense woke up in the third, and Don Gardner's coverage on Ezzard limited the Bearkats to a field goal, making it 17-7 with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
With that momentum, the Jackrabbits used a five-play drive at the start of the fourth, and just as Ezzard was the star for Sam Houston, it was Davis again on a 28-yard rush that got South Dakota back in it. With a good extra point, it became a three-point game with 13:12 to play.
Strong defense from the Jackrabbits got them the ball on their own 15-yard line with six minutes left to play, and an 85-yard rush from Davis made up the difference to send the Jackrabbits to victory in their first title game.
After a quiet first half, he broke out to lead the Jackrabbits to victory.
But it wasn't enough to stop a Bearkats charge.
Sam Houston opens the 2021 season on Sept. 2 at Northern Arizona.
South Dakota State will visit Colorado State on Sept. 4.