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FCS title rematch a do-over for both offenses

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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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John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

WASHINGTON -- The steady progress continues for John Wall in his rehab from a ruptured left Achilles tendon, as the Wizards point guard is now facing teammates in 4-on-4 drills at practice.

Head coach Scott Brooks described the games as "controlled," noting they were not full-speed or with contact and featured a 10-second shot clock. But that remains a notable step in his road back after he had previously been playing mostly against player development coaches.

"He practiced for the whole practice. He looked great," Brooks said. "There is still a ways to go. But his energy, his enthusiasm, his strength [looks good]. His shot looks better."

Wall, 29, hasn't played in a game since Dec. 26 of 2018. He had surgery on his Achilles on Feb. 12, 2019. He is currently over 11 months into what is typically an 11-to-15 month recovery.

Brooks, though, makes a point to couch positive updates about Wall with patience. The team has indicated he may not play at all this season.

"I don't know if he plays this year," Brooks said. "We can be patient and we're going to be patient because we need him to be right for a lot of years. This is his career and we know how serious that injury is. He's taking it serious."

Part of the equation is the financial commitment the Wizards have made in Wall. He is due roughly $131.5 million over the next three seasons. They want to make sure he is good to go not just for this year, but that he can be effective for the remainder of his contract.

According to Brooks, even having Wall back to this level has added some positive energy to the Wizards' organization.

"I know the excitement is around because he's around and he's looking [good]," Brooks said. "When he comes back, he's going to be the John Wall we all love."

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Houston QB D'Eriq King reportedly transfers to Miami over Maryland

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Houston QB D'Eriq King reportedly transfers to Miami over Maryland

Just one week after announcing that he had entered the NCAA transfer portal, University of Houston QB D'Eriq King has reportedly chosen Miami over Maryland.

The Athletic's Hurricanes beat writer Manny Navarro reports that King has informed Canes coaches of his decision and intent to start classes Tuesday, Jan. 21. 

At the same time, Mark Berman of Fox26 reported that King has not made a final decision but did indeed like Miami.

 

King was scheduled to visit Miami Friday night and Maryland on Saturday, but Jeff Ermann of InsideMDSports reports that King may have cancelled his visit to second-year head coach Mike Locksley and company last minute after liking Miami. Berman reports that King is still "planning" on visiting College Park.

The Terps struggled to finish 3-9 with Josh Jackson and Tyrell Pigrome under center, combining for 16 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Under first-year head coach Manny Diaz, Miami went 6-7 over 2019.

King redshirted this season after playing the maximum four games allowed under new NCAA rules in order to preserve eligibility and transfer for  his senior season. In those four games, King tallied 663 passing yards and six touchdowns. 

The sought-after QB is also just one of three in FBS history that have recorded at least 35 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing touchdowns in a single season.

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