At FCS championship game, football feels mostly normal again

FRISCO, Texas – Similar to the season, nothing about the FCS championship game was normal. It was a Sunday afternoon in May, after all. Teams and fans who had weathered a season postponed to spring and relentless COVID logs were tested by a downpour and a 75 minute lightning delay.

But an exciting championship game broke out with a goal that included an 85-yard touchdown from South Dakota State Isaiah Davis followed by a 65 yard drive orchestrated by Sam Houston State Eric Schmid to run the Bearkats a 23-21 victory over the Jackrabbits claim the school’s first national title.

It was an exciting ending that sports administrators could only dream of when they originally decided to postpone FCS season in hopes that the promise of a COVID vaccine could bring back a sense of normalcy. Fortunately, the game came the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased the mask mandate for those who were fully vaccinated.

It created an atmosphere where college football actually returned to normal.

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On Saturday night, dozens of Frisco hotels sold out and bars and restaurants were full of fans, including a heavy contingent of South Dakota diehards who made their way to Texas after the school sold out their allotment of tickets in just one day.

“It was a sea of ​​blue and gold everywhere,” said Tim Goldammer, who drove 14 hours from Minnesota to here. “It was nothing but jackrabbits, people who howled and yelled and yelled, ‘Go Jacks!” It was just a good environment for football. “

In late April, the NCAA announced an expansion of its attendance policy to allow for 50% capacity. An announced crowd of 7,840 people braved the weather conditions, and both schools were looking for the first national championship in school history.

“We can get wet. We can get cold,” said Goldammer, wearing what he called an “homage to the barn yard” in blue and gold striped overalls. “If this had been in South Dakota it would have turned to snow at some point today, but we would still be here. The entire crew would have shown up. Myself and my 3,500 best friends from SDSU would have come to see this.” Boys are playing today. “

“It’s hard enough being a student-athlete … then the COVID restrictions,” said Matthew Foster, an Australian punter who played for Sam Houston from 2010-12. “It’s an honor for the team to go through all of this.” Dave Wilson / ESPN

The fans also came to play. During the lightning delay, noisy fans packed into covered areas within the stadium. In the southern end zone, they mingled in a bar and a party began.

Outside there were still signs that the full college vibe hasn’t quite returned. There were no bands or cheerleaders, and halftime was cut to three minutes to make up for lost time.

Sam Houston was probably fine with that. The Bearkats played the whole season without their own changing room, which was renovated in the former off-season. The coaches met in the press box and in a bank building, and the players washed their own shirts.

Still, coach KC Keeler said he appreciated his sporting director’s decision to move on once the NCAA said a national title would be awarded after the spring season.

“When I made the decision, it was pretty lonely for me because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing,” said Bobby Houston, Sporting Director of Sam Houston, the team after beating James Madison in the semi-finals. “You proved it was the right thing to do.”

They proved it again with Schmid’s 10-yard touchdown strike Ife Adeyi 16 seconds remain to win the game.

Mark Schmid, a Houston area high school coach and Eric’s father, said the alternate schedule was “a blessing” because he could attend Eric’s games without juggling his own coaching duties.

“I’m not being pulled in two different directions so I could see my son and the Bearkats play,” he said. “My wife and I could travel together and have a normal parenting experience to a college athlete.”

The Finnish Patton family has barely had a break from football this year, but they were okay with that. Dave Wilson / ESPN

Finnian Patton, Sam Houston’s father, tackled the right machine D’Ary Patton as well as Caeveon Patton, a Texas state defense attorney who played in the fall, thought having multiple kids playing on an extended calendar was a bonus.

“It’s great because it’s continuous football,” he said.

The “continuous soccer” part is a balancing act for the coaches who are still struggling with an upcoming fall season. Both Keeler and South Dakota state coach John Stiegelmeier said they loosened up their physical exercises in hopes of allowing players to maintain their bodies for the fall season. Still, Stiegelmeier said his quarterback, newcomer Mark Gronowskihad a “pretty serious injury” that needed to be evaluated, and Keeler said Schmid had hit so hard that he wasn’t sure he could play next week if they had another game.

But both were grateful that they’d gotten to this point after months of practicing with no play facilities. When they did that, they delivered a classic finish. Keeler earned his place in history by overtaking former Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel for the most wins in FCS playoff history (24) and becoming the first coach to win two FCS titles at two different schools.

To beat SDSU, Keeler thought they’d have to spread the ball all the way to the edge. The rain and the slippery field made it extremely difficult. But he dared his team to work on it.

“You have to go through so many different things in a football game, in a football season, and this is just one of them that we’re going to go through,” he told them before the game. “If we really are the best team in the country, get to the point.”

The Bearkats finished their marathon by beating the country’s three toughest teams with comeback wins against North Dakota State, James Madison and the Jackrabbits.

“It’s really a special group, considering this thing started in June and we had no idea when this thing would ever end,” said Keeler. “If you win a national championship, that’s immortality. We hunted that. We hunted immortality.”

As the players celebrated on the field, fireworks exploded over the stadium. The longest season in college football history ended on a bang. And soccer seemed to be back.

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