GoBearkats.com Coming into Saturday’s game, the Bearkats had two big goals they wanted to accomplish.
First, they wanted to defeat Northwestern State and clinch a share of the Southland Conference championship. Second, the Kats hoped to pick up their all-important seventh win over a Division I opponent.
Done and done.
With a dominant effort on both offense and defense, third-ranked Sam Houston walloped the Demons 52-17 and to pick up a piece of the conference title.
Even more important was the Kats earning their seventh D-I win, which satisfies the unofficial benchmark for entry into the 20-team Football Championship Subdivison playoffs, which gets under way in two weeks. The Bearkats have done their part and now have to hope the NCAA selection committee views positively on their resume´ to allow them in as well as possibly earning one of the five coveted national seeds.
“We came into this game knowing that if we lose this game, we’re done. We’d have one game to look forward to, (Texas) A&M,” said Kats senior wide receiver Trey Diller. “We had the mentality all week and coach (Willie Fritz) said that this was our best week of practice all season and we needed to go out there and put it all together.
“We’ve been making a statement these last couple of games. … For seven weeks in a row, we’ve been able to handle our business. If everybody stays healthy and we keep handling our business in practice and everybody gets better in the film room, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people, whether or not we’re seeded second or seeded 14th. It doesn’t matter as long as we get a chance to play, I think we’ll make a statement and be able to get back to Frisco (for the FCS national championship game).”
Throughout its seven-game winning streak, Sam Houston has shown a knack for taking a team out of its element on both sides of the ball. That was evident Saturday afternoon as the Bearkats carved up the Demons defense for 509 yards of offense and earning 26 first downs.
“We didn’t start out great, but we just played great in the second, third and fourth quarters,” Fritz said. “Once again in the fourth quarter, everybody knew we were going to run it and we were still able to move the ball effectively.”
Defensively, the Kats (6-1 in Southland play, 8-2 overall) were as stingy as they have been all season. Through three and a half quarters, the only snap the Demons took in Sam Houston territory was on the final play of the first half, which resulted in a 27-yard field goal from kicker John Shaughnessy. Northwestern State didn’t get another snap in Bearkat territory until it was midway through the fourth and many of SHSU’s starters had been pulled.
“It’s tough, but I feel like we have the team that can play with any team in the country,” Kats safety Darnell Taylor said. “We came out and we proved that once again.
“It’s a team sport. We just and try to keep them from scoring. We feel that if we can keep them from scoring, we’ll have a shot to win the game. We’ve just been playing lights out the past four or five weeks. We’re going to keep trying to do what we’ve been doing.”
For most of the first quarter, it was nip and tuck between the two squads as neither offense could generate much yardage and struggled to pick up first downs. With time winding down in the first, the Kats were looking at being shut out in the opening period for the first time since the Nicholls contest on Oct. 13.
On third-and-1 from their own 44, Bearkats running back Timothy Flanders broke through the line and sprinted past Demons defenders for a 56-yard score.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sam Houston kicker Miguel Antonio’s kick was held up by the wind and Northwestern State returner Ed Eagan fielded the ball at the 18-yard line and returned it all the way to knot the game at 7.
The Kats wouldn’t be fazed, though. After Antonio booted a 34-yard field goal to put Sam Houston ahead 10-7 early in the second quarter, the Bearkats struck in a big way. Bell, who completed 17-of-23 passes for 239 yards and three TDs, got the Demons defense to bite on a play-action fake and found senior tight end T.J. Jones wide open down the seam. Jones fended off would-be tacklers and burst into the end zone for his first career score.
“It was a long time coming,” Jones said. “My position coach – coach (Kyle) Segler – he said I was going to be wide open and if I didn’t score, he was going to be on me. When I saw the ball in the air, I just ran as fast as I could to the end zone.”
That opened the floodgates for the Sam Houston offense. The Bearkats scored two touchdowns in their final three possessions of the first half, including twice in the final three minutes, to take a commanding 38-7 advantage.
The Demons (2-4 in SLC play, 4-6) didn’t head into the locker room without adding some points and were able to kick a 27-yard field goal after quarterback Brad Henderson hit Clifton Brown for a 53-yard catch-and-run connection.
The Kats picked up right where they left off in the second half, driving down the field on their first possession before Flanders, who finished the day with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard TD. The score extended Sam Houston’s lead to 45-10 with a little more than seven minutes to go in the third.
With less than three minutes to play in the third, the Bearkat starters were pulled in favor of reserves to play the rest of the way.
After five consecutive blowout wins and feeling that they solidified their spot in the FCS playoffs, the Bearkats will now be able to see how far they’ve come as they head to College Station to take on Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a huge 29-24 win over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Alabama, which should provide for an electric atmosphere at Kyle Field.
“That’s going to be a huge test. It’s going to be a big test for our team and we have the team that can compete with them,” Taylor said. “I feel like it’s going to be a huge test and we’re going to see how it goes.”