Courtesy Gene Schallenberg / Huntsville Item / GoBearkats.com
Tim Flanders rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown and Richard Sincere added 107 yards on the ground and two touchdowns to lead Sam Houston to a 31-10 Southland Conference victory over Central Arkansas Saturday at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
Flanders and Sincere’s performances marked the first time since 1997 that Sam Houston has had two backs rush for more than 100 yards in the same game.
Bennie Wylie and Erik Polk last achieved the feat for the Bearkats in a victory over Texas Southern in 1997.
Sam Houston jumped out to a huge lead early in the second quarter and never let up. With the game comfortably in hand, the Kats pulled away in the fourth quarter to stun 18th-ranked Central Arkansas 31-10 Saturday night at Bowers Stadium in the Southland Conference opener for both teams.
“This feels real good,” Sam Houston sophomore running back Tim Flanders said. “This was the first game in the conference with them being ranked and one of the top teams to win the conference, so this gives us a real big advantage the rest of the season.”
The Bearkats set the tone early.
After forcing the Bears to go three-and-out to start the game, Sam Houston methodically moved down the field with a balanced attack.
The Bearkats (1-0 in Southland Conference, 2-0 overall) churned out tough yards, moving the chains four times in the opening drive, three on carries. Even after a false start penalty moved the Bearkats back to the 15 on first-and-goal, Sam Houston punched its way over the goal line on a 9-yard keeper by do-it-all sophomore Richard Sincere to take the early lead.
Thanks to a 73-yard catch-and-run reception by Central Arkansas junior receiver Isaiah Jackson, the Bears got within range of tying the game at 7. The Bearkats, however, kept Central Arkansas out of the end zone and the Bears were unable to come up with any points as kicker Eddie Camara missed a 24-yard field goal to the right.
“We had some big stops. We did a good job of red-zone defense,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said. “I’m really proud of the coaches. They put together a great game plan, but obviously the players have to execute it.”
The Kats took advantage and marched down the field and extended their lead after Miguel Antonio curved in a 42-yard field goal.
Again, Sam Houston forced a would-be three-and-out. The Bears (0-1, 1-2) gambled and went for a fake punt, but the Bearkats snuffed it out and took over on the Central Arkansas’ 35.
Sam Houston found its way inside the 10 and sophomore running back Ryan Wilson muscled into the end zone from 8 yards out to give the Kats a healthy 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“That was huge for us,” Fritz said. “It’s always great to play out in front on both sides. There comes a certain point when a team wants to play two-dimensional has to become one-dimensional. Obviously, scoring 17 points on our first three possessions is a great way to start the ballgame.”
Midway through the second quarter, Bears senior quarterback Nathan Dick was the victim of a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit after scrambling and sliding for a 5-yard gain and was knocked out of the game.
Instead of dealing with Dick, a pocket passer, the Bearkats had to adjust to backup Wynrick Smothers, who is a threat with his arms and legs.
“We couldn’t play as reckless on the (defensive) line,” said SHSU sophomore nose tackle Gary Lorance, who found his way to Smothers for a 3-yard sack in the third quarter. “When a scrambling quarterback comes in, you’ve got to make sure the ends have contain and the interior guys have to hold their lanes. You have to know where (the quarterback) is at all times.”
In the second half, the Bearkats stuck with their option game and kept attacking Central Arkansas’ perimeter defense. Eventually, Sam Houston saw an opening and Sincere broke free on a pitch from quarterback Brian Bell 5 yards down the field. Sincere tucked it away and sprinted 45 yards for a touchdown that put the Kats ahead 24-3 in the third.
“Running the option is a big part of our offense, so we work on it daily. That’s one of the main things that’s in our offense,” said Sincere, who rushed for 107 yards on 10 carries.
“We work on staying in a good pitch relationship with the quarterback so we could have big plays down the field like we did.”
Central Arkansas got back to within two scores after junior running back Jackie Hinton rushed into the end zone from 9 yards out with a little more than five minutes to go in the third.
From that point on, though, it was all about controlling the clock. The Bearkats were effectively able to run out the clock, thanks to their ability to run between the tackles and move the chains.
Flanders, who found success bouncing to the outside throughout the game, slashed his way to the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter.
The Bearkats continued to pound the ball in the fourth and kept Central Arkansas’ defense on the field for 11 of the final 15 minutes. When Sam Houston was done, the Kats had amassed 316 yards on the ground.
“Our linemen were doing a real good job. They were fighting off the ball and opening up some big holes for us,” said Flanders, who had his second consecutive 100-plus yard rushing game with 119 yards on 18 carries.
Defensively, Sam Houston’s held the Bears, who averaged 40 points and more than 400 yards of offense, to 271 yards, thanks in large part to the pressure that was put on Central Arkansas’ backfield.
“We knew coming in that their offense was potent and it was going to be hard to stop,” Lorance said, “but we also had two weeks to prepare and two weeks to practice and get in better shape and learn their system, too.”
Next up for Sam Houston is a long road trip to Albuquerque, N.M. to take on New Mexico, which plays in the FBS, next Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. Central time.