Courtesy DJ Shafer / The Huntsville Item
There was seemingly no stopping the Bearkats on Saturday, especially not on homecoming day. From the first snap until time ran out, Sam Houston’s defense harassed the Colonels, who could not come up with an answer.
The 10th-ranked Kats forced five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries — on their way to a 47-7 rout of Nicholls to remain unbeaten and take sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference.
“Every day, (defensive coordinator Scott) Stoker preaches getting to the ball and running every play. If you’re not running, he’s not going to put you on the field,” Sam Houston defensive end Eddie Decambre said. “We’re going hard every single day and we’re prepared. It’s going to show on the field.”
After struggling for most of the first quarter offensively, even after a interception by Decambre on Nicholls’ first possession put Sam Houston in Colonels territory, with two missed field goals, the Bearkats began to turn things around.
With a little more than three minutes left in the opening quarter, junior safety Robert Shaw provided the spark the Kats (3-0 in Southland Conference play, 6-0 overall) needed, picking off a Landry Klann pass and returning it for a 61-yard touchdown.
“It all came because of the pressure the defensive line was getting out front,” Shaw said. “They kept tipping the ball and I guess the quarterback felt like he had to rush his throws. All the credit should go to the D-line.
“It gave us some confidence. It was a booster for the offense. They felt that since the defense was out there giving all we had, they felt like we had to pick it up. So it just helps out the whole team.”
That started a string of Bearkat turnovers in the next several possessions that resulted in short possessions for the Colonels (0-3, 1-6) and excellent field position for Sam Houston.
The next three times Nicholls touched the ball, the Kats came up with takeaways.
After Bearkats kicker Miguel Antonio missed a 36-yard field goal early in the second quarter, Sam Houston got the ball back after safety Darnell Taylor punched it out of running back Tyrie Allen’s hands and defensive tackle Gary Lorance recovered it.
Later in the second quarter, Sam Houston’s defensive line tipped Klann’s pass and junior defensive end Andrew Weaver came up with the interception.
On both instances, the Kats came away with points as quarterback Brian Bell hit receiver Torrance Williams in the back corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown and sophomore running back Tim Flanders bulled through the middle for a 1-yard score, which extended Sam Houston’s lead to 21-0.
“One thing last year we felt we didn’t do as well was creating takeaways. That was a point of emphasis in the spring and the preseason,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. “We just didn’t get (turnovers) in the first few games. We were playing well, but we weren’t getting them. The guys were doing a super job with ball awareness every time they approach the ball carrier.
“Last ballgame, I counted 19 times we went after the ball and tried to strip it and almost got it. You’ve got to have that attitude every single play. I see it in practice and now it’s carrying over to the games.”
The Bearkats’ ball-hawking ways continued in the second half. On the Colonels’ third play of the third quarter, Landry tried to rush on a keeper, but linebacker Will Henry jarred the ball loose and Decambre fell on it.
Four short plays later, Flanders ran for his second touchdown of the game from 4 yards out, giving Sam Houston a 31-0 advantage.
The Kats tacked on two more touchdowns on a 1-yard Richard Sincere rush in the third quarter and a 50-yard screen pass from backup quarterback Greg Sprowls to Keyshawn Hill, who were both inserted in the fourth once the game was no longer in jeopardy, in the fourth.
Sam Houston’s defense was relentless, not just in creating turnovers, but in keeping Nicholls from getting into a rhythm.
From the 8:03 mark of the first quarter until there was 4:21 remaining in the game — 48 minutes, 42 seconds of game time — the Colonels were unable to get a first down.
“This whole week, we knew exactly what they were going to do. We had three sheets of tips and it was almost 95 percent accurate,” said linebacker Kash David, who sacked LaQuintin Caston in the end zone for a safety at the start of the fourth.
“We were prepared to win this game and that’s all the credit to the coaches. They gave us more tips than we knew what to do with, it was almost too much information, because we knew exactly what they were doing. When you know what play is going before the ball’s snapped, you’re a second faster than trying to read it. Our preparation for this game was just awesome.”
Even after the Colonels changed quarterbacks and went back to Caston, who had started Nicholls’ first five games, they still were stymied by Sam Houston’s stingy defense. The Colonels didn’t get another first down until their final possession, but by then the Kats had pulled several starters and subbed in reserves.
Due to McNeese State losing 21-18 Saturday at Central Arkansas, Sam Houston is now all alone in first place in the Southland Conference and have an important game coming up this week against the Cowboys in Lake Charles, La.
“This game is already over with. We’re done with it,” Decambre said. “We’re already focused on the next game. McNeese is the game. We have to beat McNeese to get to that next level. If we want to achieve greatness, we have to beat McNeese. We want to get where they’ve been.
“We’ve got to get it done. That’s a huge game. We don’t look forward to it, but that’s in the back of our mind for a while. We knew it was going to come down to this.”