The No. 1 Sam Houston State Bearkats faced their toughest test of the season Saturday night as the top-ranked team squeaked by the McNeese State Cowboys 56-43.
Looking to avenge last season’s first round playoff loss to the Bearkats, the Cowboys were out for revenge; but it was SHSU who walked off the gridiron triumphant.
“It was a great win. We beat a very good football team,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “We obviously didn’t think their record [5-4 overall] indicated how good they’ve been playing lately.”
It was another day in the office for the Bearkat offense as they racked up a total of 630 yards. Led by junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the Kats got off to a fast start. Briscoe connected with sophomore wide receiver Davion Davis for a 28-yard touchdown to start the scoring barrage.
Following an empty drive by the Cowboys, Briscoe marched the Kats down the field and found freshman wide receiver Nathan Stewart for a 52-yard touchdown to extend SHSU’s lead to 14-0.
Briscoe finished the game completing 29 of 44 passes for 504 yards and six touchdowns. His six passing touchdowns brought his season total to 40, breaking the school’s record for most passing touchdowns in a single season.
Junior wide receiver Yedidiah Lewis got in on the action in the second quarter when he took a 45-yard strike from Briscoe to the house. Before fans knew it, the Cowboys found themselves trailing 28-9 rolling into halftime.
The second half was a turning of the page for the Cowboys. The Bearkats held the Cowboys to 81 passing yards in the first half, but the Cowboys managed to finish with 357 yards through the air and 574 total yards of offense.
“Just coming into the game, I knew they were going to play single coverage,” Stewart said. “I knew that the game was going to be on us [the receivers]. I knew coming in that I had to get my mind and body right to complete the challenge.”
McNeese State opened the half with two quick touchdowns, a 39-yard rushing touchdown by freshman running back Justin Pratt and a 19-yard touchdown reception from junior wide receiver Darious Crawley, shrunk the Bearkat lead to 35-23.
“The changes they made, they just started throwing the football. That’s pretty much it,” senior cornerback Darion Flowers said. “They started nickeling and diming us. They started noticing that we were in off-coverage and they started picking it up and slinging it out there.”
SHSU and McNeese State would match points for points. Briscoe connected with Stewart for the true freshman’s third touchdown of the night. Stewart finished with a new conference record in single-game receiving yards. He totaled twelve receptions for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re a really good football team. That’s the first team that I think can really match us talent wise,” Briscoe said. “They’re great and they made us work
The Cowboys outscored the Bearkats in the second half by six points. Bowers Stadium really started feeling the intensity late in the fourth quarter. McNeese State, trailing 49-36, drove down the field and scored a touchdown with just under seven minutes left in the game to bring the score to 49-43.
The Bearkats answered back with a touchdown of their own as junior tight end Ragan Henderson powered in a 2-yard rushing touchdown.
On the ensuing Cowboys drive, SHSU’s defense stepped up when they needed to. Junior defensive end P.J. Hall picked up two crucial sacks, bringing his game total to four. Flowers ended the drive with an interception, thus ending the Cowboys’ upset bid.
“I knew they were going to try and test me in some sort of way of making me come out of my break,” Flowers said. “I had a good feeling it was coming. My teammates just continued to encourage me throughout the game and I just want to give it all to my lord and savior.”
Although the Bearkat defense allowed a season-high in points (43) and total yards of offense (574), the unit pulled through when they needed to. Keeler believes that the test against McNeese State will benefit the team.
“We had some opportunities to put them away early, but we didn’t,” Keeler said. “At the end of the day, in the big scheme of life, we need to be in a battle. It was good being in a battle and it’s great being 9-0.”
The Bearkats (9-0, 7-0 Southland) will look to continue their undefeated season on Nov. 12 as the team will hit the road to take on Northwestern State (0-7, 1-8 Southland). Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.