The No. 1 Sam Houston Bearkats pulled out a dramatic win over rival Stephen F. Austin in the Battle of the Piney Woods on Saturday, winning 21-20 to make it ten straight years the Bearkats have triumphed over the Lumberjacks.
Sam Houston (4-0, 2-0 conference) played the 95th iteration of the rivalry without its all-American starting junior quarterback in Eric Schmid, who was held out due to certain precautions.
“Our medical staff decided that we were not going to play him. He has taken four personal fouls in three weeks,” coach K.C. Keeler said after the game.
The Kats were also without their all-American kicker Seth Morgan due to COVID-19 tracing.
The Bearkats trotted out sophomore backup quarterback Keegan Shoemaker in Schmid’s stead. Shoemaker finished throwing for 222 yards on 16 of 19 passing and two touchdowns to one interception. Shoemaker would ultimately make the plays needed for the Bearkats to pull out the win, but the Lumberjacks (3-2, 0-1 conference) controlled the game through the first three quarters.
To start the game, the Jacks struck early. SFA would score a 49-yard field goal on their first possession. They followed that up with junior quarterback Trae Self finding a receiver for a 15-yard touchdown near the end of the first quarter after being set up with great field position following a Shoemaker interception.
The Kats moved the ball but could not convert on key third and fourth downs, which stalled their drives and allowed the Jacks to keep putting together drives of their own. SFA put another field goal through the uprights early in the second quarter to make it 13-0. This is when the Bearkats finally responded with Shoemaker finding graduate receiver Jequez Ezzard for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 13-6 with 1:32 remaining in the half.
The third quarter was much of the same for the Kat offense. SFA got the ball into the redzone on their second possession of the half, but a timely senior defensive back Zyon McCollum interception gave the Bearkats the ball back. A botched snap by SHSU and recovery by SFA set the Jacks right back up. On the next play, they ran a screen and Self found sophomore wide receiver Lawton Rikel for the touchdown.
At the end of the third quarter, SFA led 20-6 and the Kats offense looked lifeless, but 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter pushed the Kats to a victory.
The Bearkats’ second scoring drive of the game, a nine-play 97-yard drive in the fourth quarter, was what seemingly injected some life back into the defending national champions as they were down 14.
Shoemaker found Ezzard down the Bearkat sideline for a 45-yard completion to get the ball in opponent territory. Sam Houston would slowly move the ball deeper into Lumberjack territory, and on a critical fourth and eight from the SFA 26, Shoemaker rolled out right and found sophomore receiver Ife Adeyi in the back of the end zone behind an SFA defender, where he scooped the ball up from the turf to make the catch. The Kats went for two and converted after an SFA penalty, with Shoemaker hitting Chrest to make it a 20-14 ballgame.
The following Lumberjack drive is where the Bearkat defense made one of its biggest stops on the day. Senior defensive lineman Trace Mascorro, Jahari Kay and junior Markel Perry getting in on two sacks and two forced fumbles of SFA quarterback Self, of which SFA recovered both.
SFA was forced to punt and give the ball back to the Kats on the opponent 38 with 6:18 remaining after Ezzard returned the punt for 18 yards. Shoemaker quickly found sophomore receiver Chandler Harvin for gains of 7 and 16 yards to move the ball downfield. On the next set of downs, SHSU faced a fourth and four at the 8-yard line. Shoemaker dropped back and while attempting a pass, an SFA pass rusher got free, but in attempting to corral Shoemaker he grabbed hold of the quarterback’s facemask. The penalty set the Bearkats up at the 4-yard line for backup freshman quarterback Trapper Pannell to plow into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season. The PAT was converted by Christian Pavon and SHSU led 21-20 with 2:33 to go.
Self would complete a pair of passes to receivers, including one to his main target on the day, Xavier Gipson, who finished with 9 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. This set them up for a potential game-winning 51-yard field goal by Chris Campos with 46 seconds remaining, which he pushed wide right.
SHSU will head back to Huntsville to host a familiar foe in the Lamar University Cardinals on Saturday, Oct. 9. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Bowers Stadium.