The No. 11 Central Arkansas Bears traveled to Huntsville on Saturday to take on the No. 1 Sam Houston State Bearkats, in what was the de facto conference championship game. The Bearkats defeated the Bears 59-23 to win the Southland Conference championship, which means the team is likely to gain a first round by in the FCS playoffs.
The Bearkats started rolling early against the Bears. Junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe completed a 43-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Davion Davis on the first play of the game to get things start. The drive ended with a Briscoe touchdown pass to senior offensive lineman Parker Murry. Turnovers plagued the Bears offense early, as they fumbled on each of their first two drives. The two fumbles led to 10 points in the Bearkats’ favor and helped give the SHSU a 17-0 lead just 10:49 into the game.
However, the Bears wouldn’t stop fighting. After falling behind 17- 0 the Bears responded by stopping the high powered Bearkat offense on three straight possessions. They eventually scored to cut the lead to 17-7, but had a chance to cut the deficit down even more. The Bears couldn’t capitalize on another scoring opportunity that ended with an interception by junior safety Alfonzo McMillan. Following the interception, Briscoe threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Yedidiah Louis, putting the Bearkats up 24-7.
The Bears were not able to contain the Bearkats offense for remainder of the first half.
Briscoe connected with Louis again for a 21-yard touchdown, which brought Briscoe’s season touchdown pass total to 49. With the 21-yard touchdown pass, Briscoe broke the Southland Conference record for most touchdown passes in a single season, breaking former Stephen F. Austin State quarterback Todd Hammel’s record, which was set in 1989.
Briscoe extended his record moments later with a 55-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Jaylen Harris, increasing the Bearkat lead to 38-7. A UCA field goal brought the score 38-10 at halftime.
“It’s a huge honor [to have the record],” Briscoe said. “It’s awesome, but it is not the goal, I mean it’s just an example of what happens when you have the weapons that we do on offense.”
In the second half Louis set a new career high for single game receiving yards with 158. Louis hauled in a 46-yard touchdown throw from Briscoe. The catch was Louis’ third touchdown of the game, which marked the third time this season a Bearkat receiver has had three touchdowns in a game.
Briscoe later found Louis for his seventh touchdown of the game another touchdown in the third quarter, which was his seventh touchdown of the day, which ties the school record he set back on Oct. 1 against SFA. The touchdown was also Louis’ fourth of the game, which ties a school record for the most touchdown receptions in a game by an individual. The record of four was set back in 1999 by Matt Dominguez against Nicholls State.
“Of course the accomplishments mean a lot to me,” Louis said. “We still have a long road ahead of us though, we still have a lot more to accomplish.”
Briscoe finished the day completing 27 of 49 passes for 431 yards and seven touchdowns. Louis ended with nine catches for 168 yards and three touchdowns.
SHSU’s offense was not the only story of the game.
The Bearkats defense held the UCA ‘s offense in check all night long. They forced five turnovers and never let the Bears get into any kind of rhythm. Junior defensive end P.J. Hall was dominant on the defensive line; Hall constantly pressured the quarterback, which led to his lone sack on the day, but he also finished with two tackles for loss. The constant pressure led to two interceptions by UCA quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, one by McMillan and the other by sophomore linebacker Justin Johnson. The Bearkats also forced four but, but recovered three.
“We knew after watching them on film that we were going to have a couple one on one opportunities,” Hall said. “So our coach made a big emphasis this week on making sure we take advantage of one on ones.”
To go along with the records being set on the field, Elliot T. Bowers Stadium saw their season high in attendance, with 9,182 people. It was the Bearkats best, and most complete performance of the season and it was against the highest ranked opponent they’ve played yet.
Up next, the Bearkats will await the FCS playoff committee’s decision on their playoff seeding, which is announced Sunday at 10 a.m. on ESPNU. A top eight seed, which is all but assured will give the Bearkats a bye in next week’s first round.
The Bearkats are the top ranked team in the STATS FCS coaches’ poll, but were ranked fifth in the most recent playoff ranking. Head coach K.C. Keeler says the ranking didn’t bother his team.
“We didn’t talk about it at all, we didn’t even mention it,” Keeler said. “When the ranking came out we didn’t even talk about it, we just knew we had to keep on playing. This wasn’t a statement game for anybody, but I know this, we have been in the final four the last two years and this is the best team I have had. So, you tell me where we should be ranked.”
The Bearkats will gather in the Bearkat Lounge to view the FCS Playoff Selection Show as a team and discover their path to a National Championship. The selection show is set to start at 10 a.m. on ESPNU.