Bearkat return specialist Torrance Williams joked there’s a season competition between himself, running back Keshawn Hill and receiver Richard Sincere on who’s going to score first on special teams following Saturday’s 44-10 victory over Northwestern State.
With 130-return yards between Williams and Hill against the Demons – including a 93-yard kickoff return from the junior running back – the inner squad spurred the No. 8 Sam Houston State’s offense after two weeks of stagnant play.
“[Hill’s return] was probably one of the biggest special-teams plays we’ve had all year. That gave us a lot of momentum,” quarterback Brian Bell said.
SHSU (6-2) head coach Willie Fritz has stressed a sound special teams approach throughout the season with weapons like Williams, Hill and Sincere.
“It’s not just having good schemes and playing hard,” Fritz said. “You need to use good players out there, and we try to do that with our kicking game as well.”
After an exchange of field goals following a scoreless effort through the first quarter, Hill’s return settled Bell and company for the first touchdown on the afternoon with a 7-yard rush from senior All-American Timothy Flanders for a 10-3 lead.
Quarterback Zach Adkins steered the Demons into Bearkat territory with a 56-yard completion to receiver Tuff McClain to the SHSU 21-yard line. A series of incompletions and inability to penetrate SHSU’s front seven led to kicker Chris Moore finding his second field goal attempt deflected by the hands of cornerback DeAntrey Loche.
“When they drive down the field and you get a block like that, those are points on the board that they’re not able to put up there,” Loche said.
Fritz said the complete effort from all three pillars on the field kept Northwestern State’s (3-5) pass-happy playbook inert in the backfield.
“There’s big changes in field position and that’s one of the things I go back on each week,” he said.
“Where does our offense start with the ball and where does their offense start with the ball.”
Bell closed the first half with a 17-yard touchdown completion to Sincere for a 17-3 lead. As SHSU’s consistent presence on offense, the senior quarterback launched the third quarter continuing his campaign to degrade Northwestern State’s secondary.
Shy of midfield, Bell connected with Williams down the home sideline for a 44-yard touchdown completion for a cozy three-touchdown lead.
With a new set of downs pinned at the 1-yard line, Bell hit Williams for a 51-yard completion to break midfield. Hill punctured through the Demon’s front seven to set up a 9-yard touchdown completion from Bell on a boot-leg to sniff out receiver Chance Nelson in the back of the end zone.
“Once we get one first down we get a second first down and just kind of take it first down by first down,” Bell said. “That’s the longest drive you can possibly have.”
Bell was 9 of 16 for 189 yards, targeting Williams and Nelson for the majority of the second half.
Following Swimberghe’s extra point, SHSU’s kickoff team recovered a fumble broken up by linebacker Jesse Beauchamp and recovered by safety Andre Mosely at the Northwestern State 27-yard line. Three snaps later, Bell ripped through a middle seam for an 18-yard touchdown run – his fourth touchdown on the afternoon to position the Bearkats with a 37-3 lead.
“We’re always trying to get our [offense] to go shorter distances and our punters longer distances,” Fritz said.
The Demons narrowed the Bearkats lead with a late third-quarter touchdown from the arm of Adkins to receiver De’Mard Llorens for a 9-yard touchdown.
SHSU second string quarterback Don King III coupled with freshman running back Steven Hicks to punch downfield and capitalize on a 2-yard touchdown rush for a final 44-10 lead.
Fritz said following Saturday’s win having the ability to bounce back after an unusual outing against McNeese State reinstates confidence within the program.
“This conference is better from top to bottom,” he said. “Everybody has gotten better and improved. You raise the bar and everyone starts playing better, recruiting better and coaching better. People don’t work on the last place team in the offseason, they’re working on you.”