The Sam Houston Bearkats opened up their FCS playoff run with a narrow victory over the Monmouth University Hawks with a 21-15 score.
This game was the first playoff game the Bearkats have played in since losing 55-13 against the North Dakota State University Bison back in 2017. In that 2017 season, the Bearkats made it to the semifinals after defeating the University of South Dakota and Kennesaw State University.
Coming into the game, both teams were closely matched as the Bearkats averaged 44.8 points per game while the Hawks averaged 41.7 points per game. Not only this but the defenses of each team were also evenly matched as both averaged just about 17 points per game given up in their respective seasons.
The game opened up to a slow start as neither team seemed to have a lot of offensive production, with the two highly touted defenses’ showing out in the playoffs.
With 8:14 left in the first quarter of the game, the Bearkats put together the first scoring drive of the day on their second possession that would be capped off by a six-yard receiving touchdown from junior quarterback Eric Schmid to graduate wide receiver Cody Chrest.
Chrest would have a big day being Schmid’s main target of the day with eight receptions for 67 yards and the touchdown. He would be the only player with more than two catches as Schmid would struggle to open up the offense only completing half of his 24 passes for 133 yards and the one touchdown.
“Disappointed offensively,” head coach K.C. Keeler said after the game. “I thought offensively we just lost some energy.”
The following drive, the Hawks looked to have something going as they would make it all the way to the red zone but would be halted after an interception from senior cornerback Jaylen Thomas.
Neither team would find much success for the rest of the half until junior transfer running back Ramon Jefferson would find some space to score a 56-yard touchdown to double the Bearkats lead right before halftime. This would be the longest play of the game for either team. Jefferson would go on to score the last touchdown for the Bearkats, as well as to give them a 21-0 lead in the third quarter.
“Our offense is based on if the play is there that you make it,” Jefferson said. “So I feel like those plays were there for me to make.”
The fourth quarter is when the Hawks would make the game interesting. After wasting over eight minutes on a drive that began late in the third quarter, Monmouth would score their first points of the game with a little over 13 minutes left in the game. They would score eight points after a rushing touchdown and a successful two-point conversion.
The Bearkats offense would stall once again and go three-and-out and the Hawks would quickly score their second touchdown of the quarter on the following drive to make it a six-point game with a 21-15 score.
“I thought they stole some momentum from us when we were up 21 nothing, I think they have like a 95-yard drive,” Keeler said.
The Hawks were able to stay in this game thanks to an uncharacteristically bad day when it came to penalties for the Bearkats as they had seven on the day resulting in 90 yards.
Monmouth would regain possession once again with the game still being a six-point difference and began to drive. The Hawks would take it all the way down to inside the 10-yard line. On fourth and goal with 56 seconds left, Isaiah Downes came up with the play of the game and intercepted the ball to seal the victory.
“Just in the huddle like we got to get off the field get the ball back and make a stop and just play smart,” Downes said after the game talking about the final stop.
The defense of the Bearkats carried the team for the day, with junior linebacker Markel Perry leading the way, having an all-time playoff performance. The second-team all-conference player was all over the field on the game with eight tackles, four of which were tackles for loss and three sacks.
The Bearkats will return to Bowers Stadium to face the Bison Sunday, May 2 at 2 p.m. for the second round of the FCS playoffs.