Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State Athletics
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
(Sports Network) - Throughout the FCS playoffs, Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell would exchange text messages with his uncle Jeff Babb, who lives here in Frisco.
Even though Bell hadn't been to Frisco in a long time - the last time he remembers visiting was when he was 10 - he was close with his uncle, who had come to see the Bearkats play in Huntsville.
"He texted me every single week in the playoffs. He's come to a bunch of home games this year, but he kept saying he wants me to come play in his hometown for once," Bell said. "It's been a long time (since I visited Frisco), so he was ready for me to come back."
Saturday, Bell will get to play in his uncle's hometown, as he will attempt to lead the Bearkats to a Division I championship against North Dakota State in FC Dallas Stadium (ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET).
On a roster heavy with talent from Texas, the Bells won't be the only family enjoying a reunion in the stands.
Southland Defensive Player of Darnell Taylor and his twin brother Darius are from Mesquite, a town about 40 miles south of FC Dallas Stadium, and even though each player only gets four tickets, the twins are expecting a large fan following on Saturday.
"For me and a couple other guys it's a chance to come play at home, and that's a good feeling," Darnell said. "Mesquite is about half an hour from here, so we should have plenty of people here. I've actually been getting too many calls for tickets, we only have eight between me and my brother, so those went to our usual family members."
Southland Player of the Year Timothy Flanders isn't from Texas, but he'll have a new face in the crowd, his brother John - who plays defensive back for Tulsa.
"It'll be my older brother's first time ever seeing me play live in person," Flanders said. "He's seen me on TV, but he hasn't been able to make it a game live in college."
Even for those players that aren't making trips home or enjoying a reunion with a family member, playing in, and winning in, Texas puts added pressure for success.
"This game is bigger than just the football team," said do-it-all receiver Richard Sincere. "It's about our community, it's about our university as whole as well as all the alumni from Sam Houston (State)."
All the local and state ties to the game have made tickets a hot commodity, which officially have been sold out for weeks.
It's been difficult to land tickets on the aftermarkets as well. On Thursday afternoon, multiple online ticketing sites had listed the number of championship game tickets available as zero.
However, the tickets sales have bee nothing but positive for the FCS, and in a year when bowl games have struggled for attendance, the playoff system has not only put the two best teams in the championship, but drawn a record overall attendance.
"This isn't like a bowl game, this is a national championship, and I think the attendance shows that," Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. "I've turned on the TV and seen some bowl games where you could shoot a shotgun at one side of the stadium and not hit anyone."
PICK YOUR POISON
North Dakota State won't have to elude any shotgun shells, but the defense will have to figure out a way to stop the double-barrel running attack of Flanders and Sincere.
It's been a theme for the Bearkats' undefeated season: if Flanders is stopped, Sincere runs wild. If Sincere is contained, Flanders is stuffing the stat sheet.
"I've said it before, but teams really have to pick their poison against us," All-American center Travis Watson said. "I think the playoffs have been a perfect example. Against Montana State, they really wanted to stop Tim, but Richard ran for 160 yards. Against Montana, they slowed Richard, but Tim came out and dominated."
No team has been able to contain both Flanders and Sincere this season, and the next couple years could be just as tough - both offensive weapons are sophomores.
"The sky is the limit (for us), we have so many different units and personnel packages that we can use to get an edge on the defense," Sincere said. "It can go anywhere. You can stop somebody, but you can't stop us all."
Often regarded as a middle-level FCS conferences, the Southland Conference could make a statement with a national championship trophy hoisted by Sam Houston State.
"That's big, especially since lately the Southland Conference hasn't done too well in the playoffs," Watson said. "It's been a while since we had a team come this deep in the playoffs and a lot of people say that the Southland isn't really a strong conference. So, to be be able to represent the Southland Conference and play the game in Texas is a big deal for us, and we want to be able to do it the right way."