The No. 5 Sam Houston Bearkats defeated the McNeese State Cowboys in Huntsville, Texas, with a 27-13 final score. With a combination of the win and a loss from the University of the Incarnate Word, the Bearkats have officially outright won the Southland Conference football title.
This is the first time since 2016 that the Bearkats have won the SLC in football.
“Although the year is 2021, the Sam Houston Bearkats are the 2020 Southland Conference champions,” SLC Commissioner Tom Burnett said.
The Bearkats came into the matchup averaging 50 points per game, but the defense was the side of the ball that stepped up in the second last game of the season. The front seven of the Bearkats was a force the entire game coming up with five sacks during the game.
Not only that, senior defensive lineman and captain Joseph Wallace came up with a timely forced fumble at the three-yard line, which saved a touchdown. If the Cowboys were to have scored on the play, the game would have been a one-possession ball game with five minutes left in the game.
“I always tell anybody who is listening to me, when we are going into a ball game, that is the matchup we have to win,” head coach K.C. Keeler said after the game. “If we cannot win that matchup it is going to be hard. That is the best defensive line in the country. Those guys play so hard with so much passion.”
The Bearkats started the game slow as they scored their first points of the game with less than three minutes to go in the first quarter when redshirt junior quarterback Eric Schmid found sophomore running back Noah Smith on a wheel route to give the Bearkats a 7-3 lead.
Sam Houston would go into halftime with a 17-3 lead thanks to a rushing touchdown from redshirt junior running back Ramon Jefferson in the second quarter and a field goal right before halftime. The Bearkats would score 10 more points in the third quarter off, of a rushing touchdown from junior running back Donovan Williams and another field goal.
The Cowboys would get their second field goal of the day shortly after, as the score would be 27-6 going into the final quarter of the game.
McNeese would not take long to respond as they would score a touchdown on their second drive of the final quarter to cut the lead to 14 with 11:18 left to go in the game.
Following this drive, Schmid would throw his second interception of the quarter, which would lead the Cowboys to get the redzone with less than six minutes to go. This drive would end in the mentioned fumble by Wallace.
This stop would all but put an end to the Cowboy’s comeback aspirations.
One big part of the Bearkats defense that stepped up in the game was junior linebacker Trevor Williams, who led the team with eight total tackles on the day.
“I constantly remind those guys, we got to make sure we get back and anchor down,” Williams said when talking about the big stop in the fourth quarter. “It all starts up front. The defensive line played phenomenal today, they constantly made plays all throughout. At the end of the day its about making plays and having fun.”
The Bearkats will finish their season next week as they will travel to San Antonio to take on the Incarnate Word Cardinals where they will try to stay undefeated on the season and will then prepare for the first round of the FCS playoffs.