The Sam Houston State University Bearkats extended their winning streak in the Battle of the Piney Woods to eight straight victories with a 54-21 win over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in the 93rd installment of the rivalry.
“The experience was amazing,” freshman quarterback Ty Brock said. “When you dream of playing college football as a little kid, that’s what you think of. “
SFA capitalized on an early scoring opportunity after Brock threw an interception at his own 35-yard line. Lumberjacks senior quarterback Foster Sawyer connected with sophomore wide receiver Tamrick Pace eight plays later for a touchdown to put SFA up 7-0 just three minutes into the game.
“I started off kind of rough,” Brock said. “I made a big mistake, but I got comfortable after that. The nerves went away after the interception. We didn’t get flustered at all and got right back to it.”
Brock and the Bearkats answered on their third drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Davion Davis to tie the game with 7:55 remaining in the first quarter.
“This game has been going on for so long,” Davis said. “To be able to contribute to this team and this rivalry the way I’m supposed to is surreal honestly.”
SFA regained the lead on the ensuing drive as Pace picked up his second touchdown of the first quarter on a pitch from Sawyer. SHSU immediately marched down the field on a nine-play drive that ended with an 8-yard rushing touchdown by Brock to tie the game 14-14.
The momentum shifted immediately with a clutch pick six by junior linebacker DJ Curtis to put the Kats on top 21-14 with 1:39 left in the first quarter.
“Adrenaline is running through your body,” Curtis said. “The tight end came to the middle of the field. I just stuck to him, read the quarterback, and just took the ball. It happened so fast. I was shocked honestly and just ran to the sideline and celebrated with my teammates.”
With 10:15 left in the first quarter, Brock caught freshman quarterback Eric Schmid’s first collegiate touchdown to extend the lead to 28-14. The 32-yard pass meant that Brock recorded passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in just under 17 minutes of play.
Curtis found himself in the right place again on the first play of SFA’s drive as he picked off Sawyer for the second time at the Lumberjacks 22-yard line. Two plays later sophomore running back Kyran Jackson punched it in from four yards out as SHSU took a 35-14 lead.
The Kats extended their lead even further with a 43-yard bomb from Brock to sophomore receiver Nathan Stewart for Stewart’s first touchdown reception of the season. A botched extra point attempt left SHSU on top 41-14. That lead swelled to 44-14 on a 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Tre Honshtein. The Bearkats finished the first half on a 37-0 run following Curtis’s first-quarter pick six.
SFA received the second half kickoff and propelled down the field courtesy of a 47-yard run by junior running back Thomas Hutchings. However, the Lumberjacks were unable to come away with points courtesy of senior defensive end Derick Roberson’s second sack of the game.. The Kats capitalized on the turnover on downs with a field goal to go up 47-14.
Roberson continued his strong day defensively by forcing a fumble that was recovered in SFA territory by junior defensive lineman Scean Mustin. Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Dare later connected with freshman running back Chase McCray on a 17-yard touchdown pass. McCray’s first career touchdown gave the Kats an even more commanding 54-14 lead.
SFA tacked on another touchdown late in the fourth quarter as the contest ended in SHSU’s favor 54-21.
“It doesn’t get old winning this ballgame,” Keeler said. “It’s our eighth in a row, and that’s a big deal. It’s such a great environment, and our kids feed off playing in this environment. In the locker room we talked about ‘The Kats are back.’ If we are truly back, we have to go play a big ballgame next week.”
While this was a huge win over a bitter rival to improve to 3-2, the Kats will turn their attention to the road battle against Northwestern State University on Saturday. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m.