Rwanda Taua’a, SHSU Student Media
The final whistle was blown at Elliot T. Bowers Stadium on a gloomy afternoon. It was a bitter-sweet moment. It was an end to an era of Sam Houston Bearkat football. But it was also the beginning of another era.
The Bearkats lost their regular season finale Saturday to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 17-7. The Bearkats finished 5-4 on the season. It was also their last time in the Western Athletic conference and Football Championship Subdivision.
Sam Houston had two games taken off their schedule due to the University of Incarnate Word backing out of moving to the WAC and Lamar moving back to the Southland Conference earlier than expected.
These events happened over the summer when the schedules were nearly finalized. There was hardly any chance Sam Houston could fill those voids in the schedule.
They began the year on Sept. 3 with a shutout 31-0 loss at Kyle Field to the Texas A&M Aggies, the No. 6 team in the country for Football Bowl Subdivision.
Despite not scoring points, the defense kept the Aggies in check by just allowing 31 points, including just 14 points in the first half.
Seven days later, the Bearkats suffered a disappointing 10-3 loss to the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, who the Bearkats defeated handily last season 42-16.
The Bearkats would get back on track that with a mid-season 5-game winning streak that included wins over Texas A&M Commerce, Eastern Kentucky Colonels, Utah Tech Trailblazers and the Tarleton Texans.
The biggest win of all was the 96th and final Battle of the Piney Woods against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks on Oct. 1.
Graduate transfer running back delivered one of the biggest moments in program history in his lone year at Sam Houston when he ran in a 1-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game to tie it 16-16.
Sophomore kicker Seth Morgan kicked the extra point to make it 17-16 and the Kats held on in the final seconds to win their 11th straight against SFA.
The twin pistols trophy will now, as of now, stay in Huntsville, Texas, forever.
The Bearkats, however, would finish their season as they started the season.
With their final two games at Bowers Stadium, the Bearkats lost to the Abilene Christian Wildcats 45-27 and in the final game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds the next game 17-7.
Junior quarterback Keegan Shoemaker started the game but went down with an injury on the first drive. He was in the medical tent for a long time. Shoemaker then came out with his right arm all taped up.
He never came back for the rest of the game.
Sophomore quarterback Trapper Pannell took over for the rest of the game and finished with 274 yards of total offense, including 147 rushing yards.
Despite the defense holding the Thunderbirds to 17 points, the three turnovers and six turnover-on-downs were too much to overcome.
The weather played a huge factor as it was in the low-40s and heavily drizzling the entire game.
Head coach K.C. Keeler talked about how teams can’t really prepare for these conditions unless you are used to it.
Keeler then expressed that he and the team knew they were going into the final game shorthanded and a lot of inexperience.
“The kids battled, it’s just that you know we are really thin, “said Keeler.
Keeler called the season “disappointing” despite the winning record.
“I am also disappointed for those seniors who you know, this was there last go around,” Keeler added.
What is Next
There is no official word on the amount of activities that Sam Houston will do for the spring. Minimum that could be expected is just spring practice.
During the season, Sam Houston announced high profile games in the 2023 season where they would face the BYU Cougars, Air Force Falcons and Houston Cougars.
The rest of the schedule is expected to be more filled out sometime during late spring of next year.
The big story, the one with the most eyes on it, is the program now starting the transition to FBS play and the Conference-USA.
The NCAA has not given a statement whether or not Sam Houston will even be eligible to qualify for a bowl game when the Kats begin C-USA play next year.
Former FCS rival James Madison moved to the FBS this season and were not eligible for a bowl game. They will apply for a waiver for the 2023 season.
Questions surround if the program and the athletics department is ready or not with Bowers Stadium renovations in question.
For the team, the offense will be in question since it averaged only 18.3 points per game. The defense will be something to look forward to though as they gave up 20.8 points per game, including five occasions where they held teams under 20 points.
Sam Houston will looking to the transfer portal to not only improve but replace the production that is now gone via players either using all their eligibility or those going to the transfer portal.
Wide receiver Cody Chrest, defensive tackle Ellison Hubbard and tight end Dalton Meyer were among the big names that are now no longer on the team.
There will also be a lot of returning players that were redshirted including the likes of wide receiver Ife Adeyi, linebacker Markel Perry, linebacker Trevor Williams and wide receiver Noah Smith.
Questions will be also raised about the coaching staff with John Perry being demoted from offensive play-calling with Matt Merkens being handed the role after the demotion.
Time will tell when the questions and problems will be solved.
It is the end of an era. But it is also a beginning of another.
The ending to the 2022-’23 season was bitter sweet. It is now time to look forward to the future.
Sam Houston is now on to bigger things.
The future looks bleak, unknown. In a way though, the future is bright for Sam Houston Bearkat football.