FCS title rematch a do-over for both offenses


FCS title rematch a do-over for both offenses

FRISCO, Texas (AP) The FCS championship rematch between North Dakota State and Sam Houston State is something of a do-over for several key returning offensive players.

They didn't have much of a say a year ago when a fake punt was the most important play in a 17-6 North Dakota State win dominated by defense.

The Bison controlled prolific Sam Houston State running back Tim Flanders to become the fourth straight first-time FCS champion, and Bearkats quarterback Brian Bell couldn't answer, completing just 12 of 32 passes with two interceptions.

``They looked at their football team and said, `We've got to throw the ball better,''' said North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl, who is 9-1 in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and has agreed to an eight-year contract extension through 2021. ``Last year we did a good job defending them because they were fairly one-dimensional.''

The second dimension won't guarantee anything for Sam Houston (11-3) on Saturday because the Bison lead the FCS in passing defense, along with scoring defense and total defense. North Dakota State has held 11 of its past 15 opponents under 250 yards, and that includes last year's title game when Sam Houston had just 210.

The Bison (13-1) weren't much better on offense a year ago, finishing with 235 yards and just nine first downs. They won because punter Matt Voigtlander ran 27 yards on a fake punt, and Brock Jensen threw a 39-yard touchdown on a screen pass on the next play to give North Dakota State a 10-6 lead early in the third quarter.

That one carry made Voigtlander the second-leading rusher with returning running back Sam Ojuri, and the Bison averaged just 3.4 yards per rush.

``Our first thing is going to be running the football,'' said Jensen, who had North Dakota State's other touchdown last year on a 1-yard run. ``That's the kind of team we are.''

Ultimately, the Bison are defense first, and that's where their biggest star plays. Cornerback Marcus Williams has 16 career interceptions, including five this year. He has seven career touchdowns - four interception returns, two kickoffs and a lateral. Linebacker Grant Olson, who set a school record with 29 tackles in the quarterfinals against Wofford, will play after being hospitalized earlier in the week with a swollen appendix.

Williams sees a difference in Bell, who has more yards and touchdowns and a better completion percentage this year.

``Biggest improvement for him over last year is just making more plays,'' Williams said. ``He's staying in the pocket and hitting the right guys in the passing game.''

Sam Houston's offense starts with the running game, though. Flanders, a junior who started his career at Kansas State, is already the school's runaway career rushing leader at 4,181 and could easily double the previous record assuming he returns for his senior season. A year ago, the Bison held him to 84 yards, and the Bearkats averaged just 2.3 per carry as a team.

``I have to remember that every time I have the ball in my hands won't result in a big play,'' said Flanders, who had a season-high 231 yards in a 45-42 win over Eastern Washington the semifinals. ``I have to be able to be OK with 3-yard gains or 4-yard gains. We have to stay ahead of the chains and we'll be fine.''

As usual, North Dakota State relies on a pair of running backs. Ojuri's partner this year is John Crockett, the leading rusher by 1 yard (956 to 955). Ojuri has 10 rushing touchdowns, while Crockett and Jensen have nine apiece. Jensen has 17 touchdown passes.

``It helps us a little bit that we struggled last year because it lets us know what we can and cannot get away with against Sam Houston,'' Jensen said.

Sam Houston is trying to win the school's first title and become the fifth straight first-time FCS champion after a strange season that included a 1-2 start, just four home games and two road wins in three playoff games following a rare late-season BCS conference opponent in Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

``We started off in tough fashion, and basically we were in playoff mode from that point on,'' Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. ``We've really earned the right to be back here.''

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.


Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.


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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.