91st Battle of the Piney Woods One for the Record Books

Records are meant to be broken, and Sam Houston State broke a handful of them with their dominating 63-28 victory over Stephen F. Austin this past weekend.

“I thought that this was a team that if we didn’t play our best could beat us,” Head Coach K.C. Keeler said. “I thought it was very much like looking in a mirror. They have a very good defensive line. At times they’ve had really good quarterback play. I really liked their skill kids, outside receivers especially. I thought it was going to be a heck of a contest, but our kids just took them apart.”

A record crowd of 27,411 at NRG Stadium for the 91 Battle of the Piney Woods was just the beginning, as the historic game was literally one for the books.

Junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe led the charge with a career day. He went 25 of 33 for a career best of 438 yards and seven touchdowns, which marks the most passing touchdowns thrown by an SHSU quarterback in school history, and only one shy of tying the Southland Conference record. The program’s previous record of five had been reached five times.

“That was unreal,” Athletic Director for Media Relations Jason Barfield said. “He was able to do whatever he wanted out there and to do something like that in a rivalry game is something else. Not only have we ever had a game like that in the Piney Woods, we’ve never had a game like that period.”

Barfield has been around the football program, and SHSU athletics, for over two decades. He has witnessed 22 straight Battle of the Piney Woods games and believes that spectators may never see a performance like Briscoe’s ever again.

“In all of the big games that Sam Houston has ever had before, and the big huge numbers that we’ve put up before, nobody has ever done that,” Barfield said. “I was looking at the record book afterwards and the record was five touchdown passes in a game, and he does seven. You look at the guys who threw five and it’s Josh McCown, Dustin Long, Chris Chaloupka, Rhett Bomar. I mean the best quarterbacks in Sam Houston history and they only did five in a game. That was something else and something we may never see again.”

Briscoe’s 438 passing yards was the sixth-most by an SHSU quarterback in a single game and just the 10 400-yard performance by a Bearkat signal caller in school history. Accolades rolled in after his monster performance, as he was named Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Week, STATS FCS National Offensive Player of the Week, as well as being added to the STATS FCS national Offensive Player of the Year watch list.

“I think the way he plays kind of helps everyone else around him,” Keeler said. “He makes good decisions, so he has the ball in the right positions. He has such a quick release and he throws with his core. He’s special he really is. I think the most impressive thing doesn’t have to do anything with his physical skills, or his mental capacity to get us in the right place, but it has been his leadership.”

Junior wide receiver Yedidiah Louis also made his mark on the field and forever left his imprint on the SHSU all-time list.

Louis finished the Piney Woods game with seven receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game raising his career total to 2,189 yards, which moved him past Jason Mathenia into fourth all-time in program receiving yards.

“You kind of fit your game plan into what they do defensively, and then after you do all that you say ‘how can I get [Yedidiah] the ball three or four more times?” Keeler said. “When you have a guy that talented, you have to do that. If you give him any space at all he’s going to make you pay. It’s a combination of his quickness, his speed and strength. I mean the number of tackles he breaks is mind boggling.”

The Bearkat special teams played a tremendous factor in the Piney Woods outcome. Senior punter Joseph Figenshaw boomed a 58-yard punt in the first quarter to flip field position and the momentum; but it was senior kicker Luc Swimberghe who inched closer to a major milestone.

Swimberghe finished the game a perfect 9-for-9 on PATs, giving him exactly 300 points for his career. He’s only the second Bearkat kicker to reach that mark, joining Miguel Antonio, and needs just 25 more points to move into first as the all-time leader in points for Bearkat kickers.

“I’m a go for it on fourth down kind of guy, but I constantly go over to Luc and ask him to give me a yard line,” Keeler said. “He would probably be the leading kicker in the history of the school right now if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt last year. Coming off that knee surgery he’s worked so hard to get back. Luc is one of the best I’ve been around and I’ve been around some pretty good ones too.”

The Bearkats also set a pair of Piney Woods team records in the beat down.

An avalanche of 63 points scored by the Bearkats was the most points scored by one team in the history of the Piney Woods matchup, breaking the 56 points scored by SHSU in 2013. With the win, the team also broke the Piney Woods record for total offense with 653 yards.

“To put 42 points up and 400 yards at halftime against a pretty good defense, those are historic numbers,” Keeler said. “Once we got to 63 we spent the whole fourth quarter managing the game and just trying to get out healthy. We score a lot of points and we’re a really talented offensively. We really have no flaws [on offense]. I mean we’re a headache to defend.”

The victory over rival SFA was also monumental for the 23-year headman Keeler. The win served as Keeler’s 200-career victory and moved his overall record to 200-86-1. Between his stops at SHSU, Delaware and Rowen University, Keeler is just the 76 coach to reach the milestone and joins 14 other active coaches.

Keeler was the 11 fastest in terms of coaching years to reach the 200 win mark and the 12 youngest in the history of college football to reach the milestone.

“I didn’t really think about the 200 win,” Keeler said. “I mean there was nothing, until after you do it then you sort of reflect on it a little bit because it is an accomplishment. You reflect back and you realize that you coached a lot of great players, you had a lot of great coaches who work with you and the third thing that’s really important is that you work with some really good administration. It was very rewarding getting that win.”

Saturday was a historic day for SHSU sports, and with the historic beat down over the Lumberjacks, came historic performances that spectators will remember forever.

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