It is a good thing Kats have nine lives, because the ninth consecutive Battle of the Piney Woods win for Sam Houston State University football did not come easily. Despite a rocky start, the Bearkats claimed the 94th BOTPW 31-20 against their rival the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks at NRG Stadium in Houston in front of 24,008 fans.
SHSU’s offense was lethargic in the first quarter—garnering just nine yards on 10 plays. Sophomore quarterback Ty Brock completed an abysmal two passes for a total of six yards and threw one interception.
The Bearkat defense also struggled early and gave up 141 first quarter yards and a rushing touchdown. Senior Royce See was the leader on defense, but he could not do it alone for the Kats despite his forced fumble, fumble recovery and pair of clutch interceptions. SFA spent a lot of time in SHSU territory, eventually tacking on a field goal to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
On the Kats’ opening drive of the second quarter, Brock found senior wide receiver Nathan Stewart for SHSU’s first 1st down of the game. After a time out by SFA, a series of miscues forced the Bearkats to punt again. Having only one play of more than five yards to that point in the game, Brock and the offense needed something big.
Momentum shifted on a 50-yard catch by Stewart, which set up a one-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Donovan Williams. As the Kats’ defense started to settle in, junior safety KJ Gray came up with an interception that gave the Bearkats the ball back.
With time winding down in the first half, the Kats trailed 10-7 and were searching for a way to grab the lead before they hit the locker room. On a first-and-10, head coach KC Keeler went deep into the playbook for some trickery. Brock took the snap and threw it to freshman receiver Noah Smith, who then dropped back and aired it out to freshman receiver Ife Adeyi for a 32-yard touchdown that put SHSU on top 14-10.
“I really love coaching this team,” Keeler said. “There’s just such great leadership and character on the team they just keep on playing. We made an agreement together when the game is over, when the season is over, we just want to be able to look eye-to-eye and say we gave it our best shot. These guys don’t panic. That’s what’s so rewarding about coaching them.”
After receiving the second half kick and going three-and-out, SHSU caught a break when a muffed punt gave them the ball back on the SFA 21-yard line. Despite the great field position, a penalty forced the Bearkats backward and they ultimately had to punt.
Later in the third quarter, Brock threw his second pick of the game only to have See return the favor with his first interception on the next play— helping the SHSU defense limit SFA to 67 total yards that quarter.
The fourth quarter was a roller coaster for the Bearkats. They began the final 15 minutes with a first down-and-goal at the SFA three-yard line looking for a touchdown. Good run defense by the Lumberjacks and a fumble by SHSU forced the Kats to settle for a demoralizing field goal despite extending the lead to 17-10. A Jacks’ field goal closed the gap to four, and then potential disaster struck. On first-and-19, Brock threw his third interception of the night that ended up being a 28-yard, go-ahead pick six for SFA with 10:36 left in the game.
Staring a 20-17 deficit in the face, SHSU needed a little more magic to happen as the clock was working against them. With 6:28 left, Brock hit Stewart in stride for a 45-yard touchdown to put the Kats back on top.
The defense stepped up to preserve the lead. The next play was a strip sack that was recovered by See. Three plays later, Williams found himself in the endzone for the second time to put the Bearkats up 31-20 with 5:15 left. See quickly became one of the heroes of the game as he came up with his second interception of the night with just over two minutes left to play to put the game on ice.
“Man, that was amazing,” See said. “I want to give honor to God because without him I can’t do what I do. Just being out there with the guys for the last ride— they just gave me everything they had, and I gave them everything I had. It was one to remember.”
The Kats will be back home Oct. 12 against the Lamar University Cardinals for a 2:00 p.m. kickoff at Bowers Stadium.