Huntsville, Texas • Southern Utah's first trip to the FCS playoffs didn't last long.
Sam Houston State's Timothy Flanders rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, leading the Bearkats to a 51-20 first-round victory over the Thunderbirds.
The win was Sam Houston's 22nd straight at Bowers Stadium. It moved the Bearkats into the FCS quarterfinals next week against Southeastern Louisiana, the No. 4 national seed.
Southern Utah finished its season with an 8-5 record.
"You've got to give Sam Houston State credit," said Thunderbird coach Ed Lamb. "We started out well on defense but they just kept pecking away. ... They found a way to run the ball and that's taking it right at our strength."
SUU started quickly against Sam Houston, which has reached two straight FCS championship games.
On their second possession, the Thunderbirds took over at their own 47, following a 15-yard punt return by Griff McNab. A 10-play drive, including a pair of third-down conversions, moved the ball to the Sam Houston 25.
From there, senior Colton Cook drilled a 42-yard field goal, giving the Thunderbirds a 3-0 lead with 5:19 remaining in the first quarter.
SUU's defense forced a quick three-and-out and, after a 26-yard punt, the Thunderbirds regained possession at the Sam Houston 45.
On second-and-10, quarterback Aaron Cantu hit McNab for seven yards, setting up third-and-three.
With the Bearkat defense crowding the line of scrimmage in anticipation of a run, Cantu faked a handoff and stepped back into the pocket. Just before the rush arrived, he lofted a pass to sophomore tight end Anthony Norris, who was cutting across the field at the 20-yard line.
Norris caught the ball and outran the secondary to the goal line, giving Southern Utah a 10-0 lead with 3:36 left in
The Thunderbird had defense allowed only 14 yard on Sam Houston's first two possessions, but the Bearkats quickly halted SUU's momentum after Norris' touchdown.
Taking over at its own 25, Sam Houston State drove 75 yards in six plays. Its touchdown came on first down from the Southern Utah 32. Quarterback Brian Bell scrambled away from the rush and found Chance Nelson at the 15-yard line.
A sophomore transfer from Texas A&M, Nelson caught the ball, eluded two SUU defenders and raced into the end zone, making it 10-7.
Sam Houston followed with 16 points in the second quarter to take a 23-10 lead.
Keshawn Hill's three-yard run with 11:02 left made it 13-10. With 59 seconds remaining, Bell's one-yard run gave Sam Houston a 10-point advantage. As time expired, Luc Swimberghe kicked a 24-yard field goal.
The Thunderbirds trailed, 30-20, late the third quarter after Robert Torgerson returned a fumble by Bell 39 yards for a touchdown. But they never got closer.
"I'm extremely proud of our players," Lamb said. "There's no shame in losing, especially to a great team like Sam Houston. The only shame would be to do it without class, to quit trying. [But] our guys continued to try to fight continued to fight the whole game."
O Sam Houston State defeats Southern Utah in the first round of the FCS playoffs, 51-20.
• The Thunderbirds take an early 10-0 lead, but they end their season with an 8-5 record.
• Sam Houston's Timothy Flanders rushes for 152 yards and two second-half touchdowns.
Sam Houston St. 51, Southern Utah 20
S. Utah 10 0 10 0 20
Sam Houston St. 7 16 7 21 51
SUt • FG Cook 42, 5:19.
SUt • Norris 38 pass from Cantu (Cook kick), 3:36.
SamH • Nelson 32 pass from Bell (Swimberghe kick), 1:31.
SamH • Hill 3 run (pass failed), 11:02.
SamH • Bell 1 run (Swimberghe kick), :59.
SamH • FG Swimberghe 24, :00.
SamH • Henderson 7 pass from Bell (Swimberghe kick), 8:38.
SUt • FG Cook 38, 5:26.
SUt • Torgerson 39 fumble return (Cook kick), 4:46.
SamH • Flanders 2 run (Swimberghe kick), 14:57.
SamH • Flanders 1 run (Swimberghe kick), 7:57.
SamH • Hill 2 run (Swimberghe kick), 5:10.
Attendance • 4,069.
First downs 19 25
Rushes-yards 19-47 54-355
Passing 289 176
Comp-Att-Int 31-49-0 15-21-0
Return Yards 16 18
Punts-Avg. 3-43.3 3-34.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-45 4-30
Time of Possession 26:09 33:51
Rushing • S. Utah, Te'o 6-29, Sharp 3-10, T.Afatasi 4-10, Robinson 1-3, Martin 2-3, Cantu 3-(minus 8). Sam Houston St., Flanders 22-176, Hill 7-101, Bell 14-54, Hicks 4-10, Wilson 1-5, Sincere 5-5, Johnson 1-4.
Passing • S. Utah, Cantu 31-48-0-289, Sharp 0-1-0-0. Sam Houston St., Bell 15-21-0-176.
Receiving • S. Utah, Moala 8-69, Morgan 6-36, McNabb 5-63, Martin 3-30, E.Pedersen 3-24, Norris 2-44, Allphin 2-9, Te'o 1-10, T.Afatasi 1-4. Sam Houston St., To.Williams 4-19, Thomas 3-66, Nelson 3-47, Young 2-20, S.Williams 1-10, Henderson 1-7, Motlagh 1-7.