Give them a little bit of time and the Bearkats will find a way to wear their opponents down.
Despite a few shaky series early on, Sam Houston got into gear and pulled away from Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday. The Kats flexed their muscles and rolled to a 38-9 victory, clinching at least a share of the Southland Conference championship.
“In the game of football, you’re going to face adversity at some point. You’ve got to learn to keep your head up and keep playing hard,” Sam Houston cornerback Daxton Swanson said. “If you keep playing hard, things are going to keep coming your way.”
Following a three-and-out on its opening possession, the Kats offense started to get into a rhythm and began to have more success moving the ball against the Lions’ defense.
On the next possession, following a 36-yard field goal by Lions kicker Seth Sebastian, Sam Houston responded. Needing a big play to get some momentum going, Bearkats quarterback Brian Bell connected with running back Tim Flanders on a shovel pass that went 39 yards to put Sam Houston (6-0 in Southland action, 9-0 overall) deep inside Southeastern territory.
A few plays later, Flanders rushed up the gut and carried a defender into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, his 30th rushing score that vaulted up to second in school history for most rushing touchdowns.
After keeping the Lions (0-5, 2-7) from generating a lengthy drive late in the first quarter, thanks in large part to the defense getting plenty of pressure in the backfield, the Bearkats started to get in sync on the offense.
In the second quarter, Bell capped a 65-yard drive, running it in from one yard out.
Then Sam Houston’s special teams came alive as sophomore Preston Sanders blocked a potential 47-yard field goal by Sebastian. As a result, the ball kept bouncing backward and Bearkats junior Mike Littleton recovered it on the Southeastern 38-yard line.
Two plays later, Bell rushed for his second score on a 4-yard quarterback keeper and the Kats walked into halftime with a 21-3 advantage.
“We were just patient. We knew that plays would start popping,” Bell said. “Famine, famine, feast. That’s what we always say. … We’ve just got to keep banging the rock and eventually one’s going to pop and get an explosive play for us and that’s what happened a couple of times tonight.”
One of the biggest reasons that Sam Houston was able to have such a big lead at the break was because the defense, which gave up 111 first-half passing yards, was able to keep Southeastern from scoring points even when they were backed up into their end of the field.
Twice in the first half, the Lions had the ball inside Sam Houston’s 30. But the Kats’ defense was able to hold Southeastern to field goal attempts, which the Lions only made one of those.
“We just play hard,” Swanson said. “Those gave us some momentum. We just tried to keep them from getting points, really.”
The Bearkats couldn’t keep the momentum going to start the second half, turning the ball over on an interception by Bell and also had to punt twice.
Without surrendering any points, the Bearkats capitalized on a fumble that was stripped and also recovered by junior safety Kenneth Jenkins.
The next play, Bell found Flanders for a 20-yard pass in the back corner of the end zone.
Sam Houston rolled from there as Craig Alaniz booted in a 22-yard field goal and sophomore Richard Sincere sprinted for a 38-yard score in the fourth quarter to extend the Kats’ lead to 38-3.
The Bearkats defense also got active creating turnovers in the second half. For the second straight game, Swanson snagged a pair of interceptions, improving to seven on the season, and Bookie Sneed also came up with a pick.
“We just came out harder in the second half like we should have (in the first),” Swanson said. “The coaches got on us at halftime and we came out ready to play. We do a great job of creating turnovers and we’ve just got to keep that going.”
With less than five minutes to go, the Lions finally broke their scoring drought as quarterback Brian Young hit Kory Theodore for a 19-yard score.
Saturday’s win over Southeastern, coupled with Central Arkansas’ 45-20 victory over Northwestern State (3-2, 5-4), the Bearkats have clinched the Southland Conference’s automatic berth into the FCS playoffs. Even if Sam Houston were to lose to the Demons in its conference finale next week, the Kats hold a tiebreaker advantage over Central Arkansas (6-1, 7-3) because of their 31-10 victory against the Bears.
The Kats don’t plan on stopping there and look to win the conference title outright.
“That’s our goal. We want to be outright conference champions,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said. “I told the kids that in the locker room because they’re going to find out. We’ve got smart kids.
“We’ll let them understand that, but we’ve got a whole lot of goals that we want to accomplish and one of them’s beating Northwestern State.”