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ROAD TO FRISCO: Bearkats return to practice with FCS Championship in mind

Sam Houston State's motto this season is "finiSH." Guess where the Kats' inspiration came from.

Web Editor/@brandonKscott

Published: Thursday, December 27, 2012

Updated: Thursday, December 27, 2012 22:12

When asked if the Sam Houston State football team ever pressed the panic button before punching its ticket to the Football Championship Subdivision title game in Frisco on Jan. 5, first-year offensive coordinator Doug Ruse set the record straight.

There was never a reason to pause, despite the Bearkats starting the season with a 1-2 record and dropping the first Southland Conference game on the road against Central Arkansas. For Sam Houston, this season wasn’t about going undefeated, even with the basic concept of going 1-0 every week.

The 2012 season was always about getting back to Frisco and it seems no one in the locker room or coaching offices at the Ron Mafrige Fieldhouse ever lost sight of that.

“It was just about staying the course and we did,” Ruse said. “We got beat by Baylor and of course Central Arkansas which was a heck of a team. The game could’ve gone a lot differently, but that’s why we play them, because you never know. But we did respond and nobody panicked.

“Of course, I was the new guy around here. These guys had been there and done that before. They made it to the national championship last year so they knew we were capable of doing it. Really, it wasn’t any change in what we were doing. We just stayed working, maintained the focus and we just kept getting better and better.”

No matter how ambitious the Kats were in 2012, getting better was a must if achieving the goal of “finishing” had a chance of becoming reality. For Sam Houston, that meant expanding the passing game.

In a teleconference Thursday, Kats head coach Willie Fritz talked about last season having trouble in third-and-long as well as second-and-long situations.

Sam Houston moved the chains more than North Dakota State did in last year’s championship game, but the Kats struggled to move them, nonetheless. When the Bison defense neutralized Sam Houston’s highly touted running game led by Timothy Flanders and Richard Sincere, the Kats only managed 115 passing yards, no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.

Fritz figured quarterback Brian Bell, coming from a family of football coaches which includes his brother Shawn who played quarterback for Baylor, would be able to pick up whatever the coaching staff threw at him. The coach was right about that.

Bell is still the efficient quarterback he’s always been and still asked to make plays with his feet given the style of offense he plays in. The junior from China Springs has 77 more pass attempts under his belt heading into this game than he did going into last year’s.

Bell said the team is more confident and motivated in the passing game, which is set up by the run game but ultimately sits in the hands of Bell’s decision-making and playmaking ability,

“(Experience) benefits me a lot, just how my teammates have accepted me and really they motivate me,” Bell said. “Their work ethic improves my work ethic and hopefully the same way around. We’ve all improved coming from last year to this year. We’re a completely different team than last year. Although there are some similarities, we’re a completely different team.

“We’re just really excited getting this ball game and a chance to go 1-0 one more time.”

The Bearkats are downplaying it a bit, but the players doing this for a second time are looking forward to getting another shot at North Dakota State, specifically. Sam Houston’s goal was to get to the championship no matter which team prevailed on the other side of the FCS bracket.

Still, a win against the Bison in Frisco gives this superlative “finiSH” all of its credence and glory.

“It’s very satisfying because we want to get it done,” Sincere said. “Our whole motto is to finish this year. So we have an opportunity to stick with our motto and what we’ve been focusing on this year and just finishing the year off strong.”

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