The Sam Houston State Bearkats defeated their long-time rival the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 27-16 Saturday in the Battle of the Piney Woods at NRG Stadium.
The Kats came out strong on both sides of the ball as they absolutely dominated the first quarter. The offense seemed like they were firing on all cylinders right from the opening whistle. A pair of throws from senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe to junior wide receiver Davion Davis got the Bearkats down the field quickly on their opening possession. One play after the 28 yard completion senior running back Corey Avery punched it in from ten yards out to give the Bearkats a 7-0 lead.
The next touchdown was a special one. After a Lumberjack fumble gave the Bearkats the ball at the SFA 12-yard line, Briscoe found Davis for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Bearkats a 14-0 lead with 10:53 left in the opening quarter. That touchdown through the air by Briscoe set a new school record for career touchdown passes with 85.
After finding the end zone twice within the first five minutes of the game, the Bearkat offense would stall for the better part of the next three quarters. A field goal by junior kicker Tre Honshtein made it 17-0 with 3:49 left in the first quarter, but mistakes plagued the Bearkats from there.
SHSU’s defense would emerge as the real heroes of the game with seven sacks on the day. Senior defensive lineman P.J. Hall and junior lineman Chris Stewart seemed to live in the SFA backfield all day, each picking up a pair of sacks.
“I think we are starting to get what we want to get out of our defensive line,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “I thought our back end played pretty well too.”
After scoring an unanswered 17 points in the first quarter, and allowing an incredible nine total yards to the Lumberjacks, the Kats’ next four drives consisted of a punt, an interception, a turnover on downs and a fumble.
The interception and the fumble turned into Lumberjack field goals, and the turnover on downs led to a touchdown drive thanks in large part to a 53-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jake Blumerick to sophomore receiver Tamrick Pace that got SFA into the red zone. Blumerick eventually punched it in from one yard out to close the gap to 17-13.
The Bearkats found themselves at the SFA one-yard line with just over one minute left but failed to find the end zone and were forced to settle for a field goal as time expired to give the Bearkats a 20-13 lead going into halftime.
“I would say we had some missed opportunities,” Keeler said. “Some penalties killed us to.”
It looked like the Bearkats may start the second half strong after junior linebacker Hunter Brown intercepted a pass in Lumberjack territory on the fourth play of the half. The Bearkats could not capitalize; however, as they missed a field goal after the offense could not even pick up a first down. The second half continued with much of the same as the SHSU offense was nowhere to be found.
Despite a big day from Davis who tied a school record with 13 receptions in the game, the Kats were kept off the scoreboard in the third quarter. They were also missing the Southland’s all-time leading receiver, senior Yedidiah Louis, who was sidelined with a hamstring issue.
“I don’t think it affected us in any type of way,” Davis said. “We have backups who are just as good as our starters, so everything was good.”
In the fourth quarter, the Lumberjacks rallied to make the game interesting. It started with a 27-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Storm Ruiz to make the game 20-16 with 11:14 left. The Lumberjacks followed that score with an onside kick recovery to get the ball back. On the first play following the recovery, Blumrick connected with junior wide receiver Frank Iheanacho for 35 yards to get them to the 16-yard line. On the next play, the Bearkats changed the momentum of the game when freshman linebacker Danzell Sims intercepted a pass in the end zone to prevent a Lumberjack touchdown.
The teams exchanged punts before the Bearkats put the game away for good. Following a Lumberjack punt, the Bearkats went on an eight-play drive where the ground game was the focus, and it was only fitting that Briscoe scrambled for a 26-yard touchdown run with 4:55 left to put the game on ice. The Bearkats defense made one last stand to force an SFA punt before the Kats would run out the clock and seal the victory.
The win marks their seventh in a row over the Lumberjacks, making it the longest win streak in Battle of the Piney Woods history. Up next, the Bearkats will take on the Northwestern State Demons at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville for their annual “pink out” game. Kickoff is on Saturday at 3:45 p.m.