In a place where Sam Houston has endured far more agony than jubilation over the years, the seventh-ranked Kats took it to McNeese State and walked out of “The Hole” with yet another dominant performance from start to finish.
Sam Houston, which had previously won only one once (1999) in Lake Charles, La. in 12 tries, beat up the Cowboys and never relented, cruising to a 38-14 blowout Saturday night.
“This felt real good, especially on their homecoming. We knew all week this was going to be a good game and a hard game,” said Bearkats running back Tim Flanders, who rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns and also had a 50-yard reception. “But this is great for us. We had a good week of practice. Everything just took care of itself.”
After the first two quarters, the Kats had exactly what they expected from McNeese, a fight to the bone. SHSU held a slim 14-7 advantage at the break.
It didn’t take long for Sam Houston to change that in the second half.
The Bearkats, who remained a perfect 7-0 on the season and improved to 4-0 against Southland Conference opponents, forced the Cowboys to go three-and-out on their first possession in the third quarter.
On the next play, Flanders ran the ball up the gut and was untouched as he sprinted 55 yards to the end zone.
Later, the Cowboys (2-2, 3-4) were pinned against their own goal line and had to punt after losing yards on the possession.
The Bearkats, who had come close to blocking punts all season long, finally got their hands square on the ball. Sophomore Torrance Williams rushed around the edge of McNeese’s line and swatted the ball off the foot of Cowboys punter Ben Bourgeois. The ball hopped off the ground and into the hands of junior Robert Shaw, who waltzed into the end zone for the Bearkats.
“We can make adjustments from the sideline. We made the adjustment and Torrance just did a super job of blocking the kick. That was a good play and we had a lot of big plays,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said.
Following yet another three-and-out by the Bearkats defense, the Cowboys punted the ball back Sam Houston.
Again, the Kats struck quickly.
Quarterback Brian Bell drew the Cowboys’ attention into the backfield on a play-action fake, then hit a wide open Trey Diller down the middle of the field for a 41-yard touchdown.
Just like that, Sam Houston turned a dogfight into a rout as the Bearkats scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to extend their lead to 35-7.
“Coach (offensive coordinator Bob) Debesse does an amazing job calling the plays for our offense. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he’s setting up plays,” Bell said. “Just having explosive plays like that really gives us a lot of momentum offensively.
“We had those one-play drives. We like to control the ball a little bit offensively. That’s usually how we like to attack, but we’ll take a one-play drive any day of the week. That’s no problem for us. We just want to put points up any way possible.”
While the Bearkats’ offense was turning the game into a laugher, the defense did its usual for the season and shut down the opposing offense.
Sam Houston held McNeese to 42 yards of offense in the third and the Cowboys finished with just 264 yards of offense with just 112 yards in the second half.
“It was a good team effort,” said Kats junior safety Darnell Taylor, who got into the backfield for a pair of sacks and also forced a fumble. “On our side, we just came out and played hard. We did what we had to do. We knew we had to stop the run and we came out and did that the best we could.”
With less than 10 minutes to play, the Cowboys were trailing 38-7 and broke their scoring drought as quarterback Cody Stroud hit DeVionte’ Edmonson for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
“That kind of hurt us because we try to keep teams as low as possible,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to keep them to no points if we can. Stuff like that happens, but we’ve just got to keep going and keep pushing.”
In the first half, the Bearkats created problems early and forced three quick turnovers (fumble recoveries). But Sam Houston couldn’t get points off the first two turnovers, even though they started deep in Cowboys’ territory, as kicker Miguel Antonio missed a pair of 27-yard field goals.
“That was real frustrating offensively, just not being able to push it in,” Bell said. “We can’t relax and settle for field goals. We’ve got to keep attacking and that’s probably going to be our main point of emphasis in these next few weeks.”
The Bearkats finally converted on their third fumble recovery when Bell ran for a score on an option with a little less than two minutes to play in the first quarter to break the deadlock.
The Cowboys knotted the game at 7 after Stroud stretched the ball over the goal line on fourth down from the 1 early in the second quarter.
“We just got beat. The better team won tonight,” McNeese State head coach Matt Viator said. “After we withstood the three fumbles, I actually thought we had a chance. We didn’t turn the ball over the rest of the game. They were just the better team tonight.”