Sam Houston State’s 15 seniors finished their last guaranteed home game at Bowers Stadium with a complete performance and a 49-24 win over Southland Conference rival Nicholls State.
Seniors Torrance Williams and Michael Wade said following Saturday’s match that their performance epitomizes their four-year career as Bearkats, including two consecutive trips to the national championship and Southland Conference titles.
“It was definitely a little emotional for all of the seniors,” Williams said. “This week happened to be our last guaranteed home game, and we just came together.”
Williams – who has been a lead figure in the Bearkats’ playbook – recorded his 10th touchdown of the season among SHSU’s 49-point run through the third quarter. Despite a first quarter hiccup with Nicholls State bulldozing down field for the game’s first points, SHSU made use of the quarterback read option with Brian Bell registering 82 yards on the ground.
Yet it was the use of young receivers on the sideline that structured the Bearkats’ offensive run with sophomore receiver Gerald Thomas leading SHSU’s passing game. SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said because the Colonels took away the running game early, Bell worked the short pass reads against the defense.
“They were taking away the dive so we could almost pull it anytime we wanted to,” Fritz said. “We’re getting into a lot of tag plays where we might run or we might pass.”
Nicholls State quarterback Tuskani Figaro blazed through the Bearkats’ front seven with three runs tallying 62 yards into the red zone. Senior linebacker Jesse Beauchamp and senior defensive lineman Andrew Weaver punched through the Colonels blitz pickup to halt Figaro’s drive. Nicholls State kicker Andrew Dolan drilled a 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Colonels advantage was short lived.
Initiated by junior running back Keshawn Hill, SHSU flattened Nicholls State’s defensive front and interrupted any chance of offensive production.
“I thought this was probably our most complete game in a few weeks in all three phases,” Fritz said.
With second string quarterback Kalen Henderson cornered at the Nicholls State 25-yard line, Wade jumped on the second pass attempt from the junior for a 48-yard pick six to rouse a second breath of momentum for the Bearkats in the third quarter.
“We really go over a lot of takeaways,” Wade said. “That’s really our main goal as a defense is to get the ball and really try and be ball hogs and get the ball.”
SHSU commenced the fourth quarter with a spacious 49-3 lead for Fritz to send out the second teams on offense and defense. Despite being down 46 points, Nicholls State took advantage of SHSU’s young talent on the field to narrow their deficit by 25 points.
“I thought we played really well through three quarters,” he said. “We got some young guys in there and we played a little sloppy and had some turnovers.”
Nicholls State recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter that led to SHSU linebacker Eric Fieilo being ejected from the game.
During the kickoff Fieilo collided with a Colonel kick-off specialist led by his facemask; a hit that the officials judged as targeting a player. However, Fritz thought otherwise.
“I’m not sure why [Nicholls State] is doing that at the end of a ball game,” Fritz said. “It’s a blocking play and people run into each other on those onside kicks, it’s a physical play. When you try and stop them from recovering they ball you’re blocking them, they’re blocking you. From my vantage point I thought they ran into each other. That guy’s facemask hit Eric’s facemask too.”
Saturday’s game extended SHSU’s conference record to 4-1, tied with McNeese State for second place in league standings.
The Bearkats travel to Hammond, La., Saturday to square off against SLC leader Southeastern Louisiana in matchup that could determine the Bearkats’ chances to claim their third consecutive conference title.