December 10, 2015

Colgate and Sam Houston State are largely a study in contrasts, from their geographical locations to the kind of offenses they run to their recent playoff histories.

One of the few things they have in common is that each school is vying to become the latest unseeded team to reach the FCS playoff semifinals.

Colgate is also the only unranked squad remaining and will try to use its ball-control style to produce another upset Saturday against the sixth-ranked Bearkats, who will seek to ride their fast-paced attack to a fourth semifinal berth in five years.

An unseeded team is guaranteed to advance to the final four for the fifth time in six years, and Sam Houston is trying to accomplish the feat for the third time in that span.

Standing in the Bearkats' path this time are the Patriot League champions, who knocked off an up-tempo team last week with a 44-38 upset at fifth-seeded James Madison. It was the Raiders' seventh straight win and ninth in 10 games since an 0-3 start.

Quarterback Jake Melville ran for a career-high 163 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for two more. James Holland continued his impressive postseason with a personal-best 165 yards and two TDs in the back-and-forth game.

Holland scored all four of his team's touchdowns in a 27-20 win at New Hampshire on Nov. 28, Colgate's first playoff victory since 2003. That run culminated with its only appearance in the championship game, but the Raiders were routed 40-0 by a K.C. Keeler-coached Delaware team, the most-lopsided title result in FCS history.

While it carried a 21-game win streak into that game, Colgate was a sizable underdog as a non-scholarship program. With the upstate New York school having changed that policy in 2013, the Raiders current seniors are the last class who won't play under scholarship.

That win with the Blue Hens marked Keeler's only national championship in eight title-game appearances across all divisions, and he's seeking his second one in his second season in Texas. The Bearkats (10-3) will also see a similar opponent to the one they faced last week.

Colgate (9-4) has many similarities to a team that handed the Bearkats their only loss in the last 11 games - McNeese State. The Cowboys run the ball about 64 percent of the time, are adept at controlling the clock and have a dual-threat QB.

Sam Houston avenged that defeat with a 34-29 road victory over the No. 4 seed last Saturday and used some timely defensive efforts to survive after the Southland Conference champs had a 1st-and-goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter.

The Bearkats moved to No. 1 nationally in total offense (543.3 yards per game) after James Madison's performance against Colgate and their 42.9-point average is good for third. They compiled 494 yards and ran 83 plays against one of the nation's top defenses last week after running a school-record 118 plays in a 42-39 win against Southern Utah in its playoff opener Nov. 28.

"It's going to be a little bit of chess match. It really is," Keeler said. "They won't be afraid to be methodical moving the ball down the field. We'll be who we are. We just try to play a million miles an hour and use tempo as our friend."

With Southland offensive player of the year Jared Johnson still dealing with a nagging ankle injury, Jeremiah Briscoe might see the majority of snaps again but Johnson will likely see some action again if healthy.

More of a pocket passer compared with the dual-threat Johnson, Briscoe threw for a career-high 313 yards and three TDs last weekend.

With 147 yards, running back Corey Avery topped 100 for the fifth time in six games. He had 77 in five carries before suffering an injury against the Thunderbirds.

The Bearkats showcased their depth in that game as their third- and fourth-string backs each topped 100 yards. The team also rotates nine offensive linemen and four primary receivers.

"We know with eight teams left, they're going to all be good," Colgate coach Dan Hunt said. "It's tough for us right now. We're playing teams that more than likely have a little bit better skill than us."

The Raiders have countered that disadvantage in athleticism by staying disciplined and limiting turnovers. They've had two penalties and one giveaway in each of the last two games.

Colgate's 13 turnovers are among the fewest in the nation as are its five penalties per contest. That's helped the Raiders win their last seven games by an average of 5.6 points.

"(Colgate) thrives on people making mistakes. They thrive on you not doing your job," Keeler said.

This is the first matchup between Patriot League and Southland teams.

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