Dukes Crush Bearkats 65-7 to End Perfect Season, National Championship Hopes

The magical season full of dominant wins and record-breaking performances has finally come to an end for the Sam Houston State Bearkats.

Friday night was an unfamiliar scene for the Kats as the team was on the losing end of a humiliating 65-7 loss to the No. 4 James Madison Dukes in the FCS Playoffs Quarterfinals. Not one person of the 15,646 in attendance at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, VA expected the game to get out of hand the way it did.

“I told our team, we’ve had a historic year,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “The way we played, how dominant we played. And it’s not like it’s the first time that we’ve been here. We were in the final four the last two years, so I know how good this team is. And to get beat like they did today, that’s pretty impressive.”

The Dukes poured it on right from the opening kickoff, scoring three touchdowns in the first quarter. Following an interception by SHSU senior nose tackle Sione Latu; the Dukes got the ball back after junior running back Corey Avery fumbled the ball in the open field.

JMU recovered and immediately went to work with a seven play 80-yard scoring drive capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run courtesy of senior running back Khalid Abdullah. Junior quarterback Bryan Schor later punched in a one-yard touchdown run and senior wide receiver Rashard Davis added to JMU’s lead by returning a punt 72 yards for a score.

“We had a good week of practice, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to come out and play well tonight,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said. “I thought we clicked in all phases – offensively, defensively and special teams. Very proud of the kids and coaches.”

Before the Bearkats knew it, they saw themselves down 21-0 just 11:57 into the game.

“They (JMU) are every bit as good as Jacksonville State and North Dakota State,” Keeler said. “There’s no question. If they play like they did today, they’ll be pretty tough to beat. They beat us in all three phases, there’s no question about that.”

Entering Friday’s game, SHSU junior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe was within grabbing distance of the Division 1 record for most passing touchdowns in a single-season. The junior needed just two touchdown tosses to break Colt Brennan’s 2006 mark of 58.

Although, he wasn’t able to accomplish the national feat, Briscoe did become the Bearkats’ new record holder for most passing yards in a single-season with 4,602, surpassing Dustin Long’s 2004 total of 4,588 passing yards.

Briscoe and the Bearkat offense couldn’t get anything going all game. The No. 1 ranked offense in the country managed to finish with only 270 yards of total offense, which was well below their average of 570.4 yards per game. Briscoe finished with zero touchdowns, completing 13 of 44 passes for 143 yards and two interceptions.

The second quarter was no different as the Dukes offense and special teams kept making plays to add to the score.

After turning the ball over on downs to start the quarter, JMU forced SHSU to punt, which resulted in more Duke points. Sophomore cornerback Robert Carter Jr. broke through the Kats’ special teams to block the punt and teammate freshman safety Bryce Maginley scooped the ball and ran 20 yards for a touchdown to put JMU up 28-0.

The Bearkats went three-and-out on five of 11 drives in the first half. Meanwhile, the Dukes kept adding on as they scored on three of their final four first half drives, which includes a 10-yard touchdown pass from Schor to junior tight end Jonathan Kloosterman and a 1-yard run from Abdullah.

By halftime, the top-ranked Bearkats, who were ranked No. 1 in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll for eight consecutive weeks, were trailing 42-0. Some would say that the Kats were overrated, but Keeler disagrees and praised JMU for their high level of play.

“I have a really good football team,” Keeler said. “We were third in the country last year, fourth in the country the year before that. This team is better in everything this year. So this is not a team that was overrated. And we got beat by a really good football team.”

Like the end of the first half, the second half saw the Dukes pick up right where they left off. JMU scored on three of their first four drives of the third quarter, increasing their lead to as much as 65-0. The Bearkats finally got on the board three minutes into the third quarter when sophomore Remus Bulmer reached the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown run.

Bulmer was the bright spot in a very dark and cold Bearkat offense. Out of SHSU’s 270 total yards, Bulmer was accountable for 115 of them. He finished the game with 85 yards on 20 carries and two receptions for 30 yards.

Junior wide receiver Yedidiah Louis, the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year, was held to just 19 yards receiving on three catches. Sophomore wide receiver Davion Davis led the Kat on the receiving end with 33 yards on four receptions and freshman wide receiver Nathan Stewart caught two passes for 53 yards, including a 7-yard reception in the fourth quarter to become the first SHSU freshman to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season.

The Bearkat defense seemed to be thrown out of rhythm early in the game. The Dukes’ well-balanced passing and rushing attack gave the usually solid unit a headache as SHSU allowed 607 total yards of offense.

Junior defensive end and Buck Buchanan Award finalist P.J. Hall led the way on defense with eight tackles, six of which were solo.

JMU maximized their home field advantage to the full extent. The school recorded their second largest crowd in school playoff history and the stadium remained packed despite the Dukes large lead.

“James Madison does such a phenomenal job of hosting the event… they have one of the best Athletic Directors in the country,” Keeler said. “They do such a classy job, and our kids were thrilled to be here to play in a great environment. The crowd was awesome, the band was awesome, the whole night was awesome. We were disappointed we didn’t play our best football game.”

The FCS Playoffs Quarterfinals didn’t go the way the Kats expected, but the team will be returning a majority of their players. However, the Bearkats will be losing four players due to graduating: defensive tackle James DeLaRosa, tight end Deon Hutchinson, Latu and offensive lineman Parker Murry.

SHSU will now turn their attention to National Signing Day on Feb. 1 with hopes of bolstering their already talented young roster.

Leave a Reply