HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Sam Houston State answered critics who claimed the Bearkats were too young, too inexperienced and simply not good enough to be considered among the best in the nation.
Tim Flanders rushed for a school-record 287 yards and a touchdown and Sam Houston State advanced to its first national championship game with a 31-28 win over Montana in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal on Friday night.
The Bearkats (14-0) will play the winner of Saturday's semifinal between North Dakota State and Georgia Southern in the FCS title game on Jan. 7.
"I don't think it's really set in yet," Bearkats quarterback Brian Bell said. "That's what we dreamed of since day one, going to the national championship. It's the best feeling in the world.
"This one is for everybody who is involved in this program -- alumni, coaches, professors, classmates. If you've got something to do with Sam Houston, this one was for you. This one was for everybody."
The Bearkats roared out of the gate with 21 quick points in the opening quarter. Bell finished Sam Houston State's first series with an 11-yard touchdown run.
On the Bearkats' next play from scrimmage, Flanders took the handoff on a draw, broke three tackles and sprinted past would-be tacklers for a 69-yard score.
Just before the end of the quarter, Bell found wide receiver Grant Merritt for a 20-yard touchdown to extend the Bearkats lead to 21-0.
Sam Houston State led 28-7 late in the second quarter, when the Grizzlies' defense turned momentum. With the Bearkats driving for another score, linebacker Caleb McSurdy deflected a pass from Bell and returned it all the way for a 61-yard touchdown to pull Montana back to within 28-14.
Following a 25-yard field goal by Bearkats kicker Craig Alaniz in the third quarter, Montana began chipping away at the deficit.
Jordan Canada finished a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 31-21, and quarterback Jordan Johnson's 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter drew the Grizzlies within three.
The Grizzlies were moving again, until Johnson threw incomplete on a third-and-11 with about six minutes left, forcing a Montana punt.
"I thought we would (get the ball back), but you can't leave it up to the defense," Johnson said. "It was my fault for underthrowing the ball. When plays are there to be made, you have to make them. I didn't do that."
And Sam Houston State never gave it back. Flanders secured the win with a 22-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Bearkats' 47 near the 2-minute mark.
"My thought was that we just have to keep getting first downs. That was the main thing," Flanders said. "On first-and-10, we just had to get at least 3 or 4 yards to keep the ball moving forward. Everything just took care of itself."
Flanders broke McNeil Moore's single-game school rushing record (286 yards) set in 1951 against Lamar.
The Bearkats finished with 496 yards and their top-ranked rushing defense held Montana to 103 yards on the ground. Johnson completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards for the Grizzlies (11-3), who were making their 11th trip to the FCS semifinals.
Sam Houston State only played in the semifinals once previously, and lost to Montana in 2004.