For the second season in a row, Central Arkansas’s Nathan Brown and co mpany came into Bowers Stadium and shocked the Bearkat nation in their Southland Conference opener Saturday. The 35-14 defeat marked the third straight loss for Sam Houston State University (2-3, 0-1 SLC) this season and third straight conference loss at home dating back to last season.
“We had mistakes on both sides of the ball tonight,” Sam Houston State head coach Todd Whitten said. “While we moved the ball sometimes, we had difficulties in the red area again. You have to take your hat off to Central Arkansas. I thought they were a much-improved football team from what we had seen previously.”
Brown, who is known for being a very efficient quarterback, completed 28 of 37 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment though was keeping the Bearkat offense off the field in helping the Bears dominate the time of possession (37:24-22:36 respectively).
“We knew coming in that he (Brown) was a good player,” Sam Houston State head coach Todd Whitten said. “We didn’t think he’d be that good.”
The Bearkats struggled mightily to get anything close to a rhythm offensively. Quarterback Rhett Bomar threw two costly interceptions and completed only 22 of 38 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown. Several times in the contest the Bearkats drove into Central Arkansas territory, only to see their drives stall by self-destruction.
Defensively, the Bearkats failed to tackle well or stop the Bears on third downs. It was yet another frustrating night for a secondary that has been criticized of late.
“It’s frustrating,” Whitten said of the secondary. “We have to get a handle on it or it’s going to be a long season. You wouldn’t expect them to complete 20 of 24 passes in the first half. I think we gave up a third-and-25 and a first-and-25 that got converted too. So I don’t know what to think about that.”
Sam Houston State began the game by receiving an early break on a Quinton Morris fumble that was recovered by Eric Mikolajchak at the Bears 16-yard line. Two plays later the Bearkats took their only lead of the contest on a 6-yard run around the left end by Chris Poullard. That lead would not last long as Brown and Brent Grimes led a 12-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by an 8-yard TD run from Grimes.
After both teams exchanged punts, the Bearkats took a drive into Bear’s territory at the 32-yard line. However, a Bomar fade into the end zone that was intended for Justin Wells was picked off by Tristan Jackson and returned 33-yards. The turnover proved to be a big momentum changer and the Bears capitalized by driving 68-yards on 14 plays, concluding with a 1-yard touchdown from Spencer Hebert, the first of his career.
On the very next possession the Bearkats put together a very impressive drive, which included a 24-yard hookup from Bomar to Blake Martin. Once again though, the Bearkats stubbed their toe when Poullard fumbled at the Bears 10-yard line. Thirteen plays later, the Bears scored with only 53 seconds remaining in the first half. Gray completed 8-of-9 attempts on the drive, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Charles Twilley, giving the Bears a 21-7 halftime lead.
Sam Houston State responded to start the second half as Bomar completed a near-impossible 17-yard touchdown pass to Trey Payne on fourth and two. The drive also included a 32-yard pass to Catron Houston in the middle of the field.
After a punt from Central Arkansas and with a chance to tie the game, Bomar threw another interception into the hands of Tok Opeloye. On that same drive, TyMagic Robinson had a long run erased on a holding penalty. On the night, the Bearkats had eight penalties for 77 yards. Central Arkansas would score two more touchdowns from Marquez Branson and Hebert respectively.
Things do not get any easier for the Bearkats as they travel to Louisiana this Saturday to face McNeese State (5-0, 1-0 SLC) at 7 p.m. For the Bearkats now, it’s all about re-grouping.
“We have to go back to work,” Whitten said. “That’s the great thing about this league, we’re good enough to win every week. There’s no reason why we can’t get this cleaned up.”