The Sam Houston State Bearkat football team defeated the Texas A&M Prairie View Panthers 44-31 in a high scoring shootout between two of the top offenses in the country.
PVAMU was an offensive powerhouse in 2015 as their 44.9 points per game was the best in all of the FCS, and SHSU led the nation the following year with 49.5 PPG.
“I think we got about what we thought we were going to get,” SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler said. “I think we thought were going to get a good football team.”
The Bearkats’ potent offense was on display early as senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe found junior wide receiver Davion Davis for a touchdown on the opening drive, taking just 1:35 to march 86 yards. Junior quarterback LaVell McCullers, in his first start at PVAMU, had the Panthers offense moving down the field on the ensuing possession, but they were forced to settle for a 29-yard field goal by freshman kicker Zach Elder after the drive halted in the red zone.
Junior kicker Tre Honshtein would hit a 43-yard field goal on SHSU’s next drive to extend the Bearkats lead to 10-3.
With three seconds remaining in the opening quarter, junior running back Javin Webb found pay dirt with a seven yard touchdown run to cap off another quick offensive drive that lasted 1:53, giving SHSU a 17-3 lead after one quarter of play.
SHSU’s defense would make an impact, as junior linebacker Hunter Brown’s sack would force a three-and-out on the Panther’s first drive of the second quarter. The Panthers defense would make a statement of their own with an interception by sophomore defensive back Ju’Anthony Parker, but the Panthers could not capitalize on any points after the turnover.
SHSU would draw the next blood thanks in large part to a conversion on fourth down and five as Briscoe found Davis for a 15-yard pickup to move the chains. Webb would then punch the ball into the end zone again on a fourth down run from the PVAMU three yard line and the Bearkats would take a 24-3 lead with 4:35 to go in the half.
The Panthers answered as sophomore running back Dawonya Tucker would cap off a quick series with a 34-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 24-10. They left too much time on the clock, however, as Briscoe found Davis for their second touchdown connection of the game as Sam Houston ran six plays to go 65 yards in 1:59. The PAT would be no good as SHSU led 30-10.
A 45-yard quarterback keeper by McCullers was an adrenaline boost as the Panthers offense found themselves out of timeouts at the SHSU one-yard line with six seconds remaining. After a fumbled snap, McCullers was able to recover and use his legs again to run for a touchdown and make it a closer 30-17 game as the Bearkats had the lead going into the half.
“We knew they got a high powered quarterback,” Keeler said. “We saw his film. We really liked him.”
The first half was filled with miscues, as SHSU lost the turnover battle and PVAMU committed nine penalties for a total of 93 yards. Sam Houston would commit a costly penalty of their own as an offside gave the Panthers a free first down during a fourth down conversion attempt at the Bearkat 41-yard line. The Panther’s impressive drive would burn an astounding 9:01 off the game clock before Tucker capped it off with a 19-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers within six points as SHSU’s lead was trimmed to 30-24.
Sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Harris would swing the momentum right back to the Bearkats with an explosive 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as Sam Houston goes back up by 13 points, leading 37-24. SHSU’s defense would play off that energy as they forced a turnover on downs the next drive with a big fourth down stop.
“There was a lane opened up toward the sideline,” Harris said. “I followed Javin Webb all the way to the endzone.”
Briscoe would touch the ball with 1:05 left in the third quarter for the first time the entire second half as PVAMU dominated time of possession with over 13 minutes in that quarter alone. After burning 4:47 themselves, Briscoe found sophomore wide receiver Nathan Stewart in the end zone for a seven yard touchdown pass, and Sam Houston pulled away 44-24.
“We just knew that once we got one-on-one opportunities we were going to have to make the best of it,” Stewart said. “I just wanted to do what I can to help my team win.”
The Panthers special teams would set up their offense, however, as redshirt senior receiver Darius Floyd returned the kickoff 86 yards to set up the 15-yard touchdown run by Tucker as PVAMU struck quickly to make it 44-31. With 10:42 left in the fourth quarter, Prairie View recovered a surprising on-side kick to retain possession at the SHSU 47-yard line.
The drive would come to an abrupt end, however, when sophomore safety Royce See forced a fumble and recovered it for the Bearkats, and Briscoe wasted no time in finding Stewart for a 46-yard completion on the first play to set up a first and goal. The drive seemed to end with a missed field goal, but the Panthers were flagged for their 13 penalty of the night as they ran into the kicker. After an SHSU false start, the next field goal attempt was blocked, turning the ball over to the Panthers down by two possessions with 4:10 to play.
In a game with 75 total points and over 850 total yards, it was a late play on defense that sealed the Bearkats victory as junior safety Adrian Contreras forced a fumble that was recovered by junior linebacker Justin Johnson with 1:16 left to clinch the 44-31 victory.
Sam Hoston will have a bye week before they hit the field again. “[We are] glad to have some time down right now,” Keeler said. “For some reason we are just really banged up. It’s a good time for us in terms of that.”
SHSU’s next game will be against the Nicholls State Colonels as the Bearkats are set to play their first true home game of 2017. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 at Bowers Stadium.