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Strength vs. strength when Sam Houston hosts NDSU

Strength vs. strength when Sam Houston hosts NDSU

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Something will have to give Sunday in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in Huntsville, Texas.

North Dakota State relies almost exclusively on running the football, while Sam Houston is second-best when it comes to stopping the run.

The Bison average nearly 230 yards per game on the ground, while the Bearkats allow less than 60. Despite his team's stingy stats, K.C. Keeler, head coach of 7-0 Sam Houston, said NDSU's rushing attack is a unique challenge.

"I'll put the skill guys in our league up against anybody in the country, but when it comes to the guys up front, offensive and defensive linemen, NDSU is a different animal," Keeler said. "We don't have offensive lines like this in our league."

Sam Houston is 1-5 against NDSU all-time. With that in mind, the Bearkats have gone about recruiting differently.

"We're built to try to match up with what we'll see against North Dakota State," Keeler said.

Sam Houston, which has dropped the "State" in its name, hosts NDSU on Sunday at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. The winner advances to the semifinals.

Matt Entz, NDSU head coach, said Sam Houston has accomplished its mission in the trenches.

"They're improved up front," Entz said. "They're No. 1 in the country in rushing defense. They've caused teams issues defensively."

The Bearkats have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 18 games. NDSU, meanwhile, had both Dominic Gonnella (163 yards) and Jalen Bussey (145 yards) blow past the century mark last week in their win over Eastern Washington. At one point in the second half last Saturday, the Bison called 26 consecutive running plays.

"We're a run-first program," Entz said.

If the Bison are to continue their FCS dominance, they'll have to do it on the road. NDSU has won 13 straight playoff games overall. Entz said they're sticking with the same routine.

"We're not treating it differently than any other week or any other road game," Entz said.

NDSU's defense will face a high-flying offense for the second week in a row. Sam Houston outscores its opponents 44.8-17.5 on average. Quarterback Eric Schmid has thrown for 2,021 yards in just seven games and ran for nearly 400, accounting for 19 touchdowns, 14 through the air.

"(Schmid) is very active. He can extend plays," Entz said.

Keeler considers Sunday's game the ultimate test.

"No one respects (NDSU) more than we do," Sam Houston's head coach said. "When we talk about the great programs, we talk about Mount Union, Alabama and North Dakota State.

"We're excited to play against the best team in the country on national television."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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