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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 03 2013

Bearkats are well traveled

FRISCO, Texas – It’s a distinction you probably won’t find very many places. But when Sam Houston State traveled to Eastern Washington, the Bearkats became the first program to play on the country’s three artificially colored football fields.

Eastern has the red turf, Central Arkansas has a purple and gray look and, of course, Boise State has the blue turf. These guys don’t mind hitting the road and the players and coaches say that’s a big reason they’re in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision title game against North Dakota State on Saturday.

“It tested our maturity level,” said running back Tim Flanders.

The Bearkats played four games at home in Huntsville, Texas, and 10 on the road. The regular season included a neutral-site game in Houston for heightened exposure and two Football Bowl Subdivision games at Baylor and Texas A&M.

That made the Bearkats part of the Heisman Trophy season of A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“He’s a little bit better than me,” Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell said with a smile. “He’s a great guy, good football player and very deserving of the award.”

Flanders, who started his career at Kansas State, said he was hoping K-State quarterback Collin Klein would get it. But he said he can see why Manziel got the award.

“He’s the ‘X’ factor,” said Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz. “That seems like a long time ago when we played them.”

The Aggies beat Sam Houston 48-27 in the last regular-season game. The Bearkats started the year with a lopsided win over Division II Incarnate Word and then dropped games at Baylor and Central Arkansas, which scored 14 points in the final five minutes to win 24-20.

Knowing A&M was on the schedule, the 1-2 record put them in a virtual playoff mode the rest of the season. Moreover, only three regular-season games were scheduled to be on campus.

“I think that benefits us coming into this game,” Bell said. “We played in some cold weather (in the playoffs). Playing on the road is a grind and to get into this position, we just had to fight. We’re looking to make the most of it.”

Sam Houston won playoff games at Montana State in addition to the semifinal victory over Eastern Washington. It’s a different road than last year when the Bearkats took a 14-0 record into the championship game.

“We played in a lot of meaningful games,” Fritz said. “We played in front of a lot of people, played in stadiums with a lot of noise. We played in unfamiliar territory a lot, so I think it’s helped us.”

Sam Houston is 13-4 away from home in the last two years, a road-tough team similar to NDSU. The Bison haven’t lost away from home since a quarterfinal loss at Eastern Washington in 2010.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia