Bearkats Set for Top 10 Showdown with Richmond

GAME 1 vs Richmond

Sunday, August 27 • Huntsville, Texas • 6 p.m. CT • ESPNU • Bowers Stadium (12,593)

No. 3 Sam Houston State (0-0, 0-0 SLC) vs No. 7 Richmond (0-0, 0-0 CAA)


WITH A BEARKAT WIN ...             

- The Kats would secure their first season-opening win over a ranked opponent in school history


- Would win their 16th game of all time against a team ranked in the top 10 of the national polls. 


- The Kats would move to 3-1 against current Colonial Football schools.


- The Kats would win their 14th consecutive game at Bowers Stadium. The Sam Houston record for consecutive home victories is 23, set from 2010 to 2014.


- Sam Houston would move to 75-25 in 100 games played since 2010. They enter the 2017 season fifth in the nation in win percentage (.747) since 2010, trailing only North Dakota State (.885), Harvard (.843), Eastern Washington (.755) and Jacksonville State (.750).


- K.C. Keeler would win his 209th career game. He enters 2017 currently in a tie with Wofford’s Mike Ayers for 17th in all-time wins among FCS head coaches. Next on the all-time list is former SHSU head coach Ron Randleman, who sits 16th with 218 career wins.      



There is no cupcake right out of the gate for Sam Houston in 2017 as the Kats host Richmond to kick off the year. Both teams were FCS Quarterfinalists a year ago and are ranked among the top seven teams in the nation to open the season with a core of returners back. Since joining the Division I ranks in 1986, the Kats have twice opened up the season against nationally-ranked opponents, doing so both times on the road at Nevada (1986) and Eastern Washington (2014), each time when the opponent was the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The game vs the Spiders is the first time Sam Houston has hosted a ranked opponent in its season opener.


When the Bearkats take on Richmond to open up 2017, it will be the 45th time Sam Houston has been involved in a game between ranked opponents and the 15th time with both teams ranked inside the national top 10. The Kats are 24-20 in games in which both teams were ranked, winning eight times in their last 12 tries.



Sunday’s game vs Richmond may be the first time Sam Houston has ever squared off against the Spiders, but it will not be the first time they have seen Richmond head coach Russ Huesman standing on the east sideline of Bowers Stadium. Huesman was patroling the sidelines for Chattanooga in 2016 when the Mocs came into Bowers Stadium for the second round of the FCS playoffs a year ago prior to taking the head job at Richmond in the off-season. He also served on the Richmond staff as defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2008 where he faced off against current SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler’s Delaware squads annually as CAA rivals in those seasons. 



Last season Sam Houston ran the table on its way to winning the outright Southland Conference title with a perfect 9-0 mark. The Kats will be looking to win back-to-back league crowns in 2017 for the fist time since 2011 and 2012, but have never won consecutive outright titles. The last team to win two straight outright SLC crowns was McNeese in 2006 and 2007.



The 2016 season was the first time in school history the Bearkats not only started the year ranked in the top 5 of the national polls, but also stayed there throughout the year. Sam Houston opened up the season as the No. 2 team in the STATS FCS poll and eventually rose to No. 1 midway through the year before finishing ranked No. 5. Since K.C. Keeler took over the program, the Bearkats have been inside the top 25 polls each time a poll has been released, while the last poll released without the Kats in the top 10 was on Nov. 9, 2015.



When Jeremiah Briscoe threw for five touchdowns against Chattanooga, it moved him past Mississippi Valley State’s Willie Totten (1984) and Grambling State’s Bruce Eugene (2005) for the all-time FCS record with 57. His mark was just one touchdown shy of tying Colt Brennan’s Division I record of 58 set in 2008, and four short of tying Linfield’s Brett Elliott who holds the NCAA mark (all divisions) with 61 touchdowns in 2004.



The Bearkats racked up on postseason awards in 2016 with no awards bigger than Jeremiah Briscoe claiming the Walter Payton Award as the nation’s top player and head coach K.C. Keeler taking the Eddie Robinson Award as the nation’s top coach. It was the first time either award has gone to a Bearkat or a member of the Southland Conference. It is also just the second time in history one program has claimed both awards with the pair joining Villanova’s Brian Finneran and Andy Talley who claimed the awards in 1997. 


Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards (2008 & 2009) is the only player to repeat as the winner of the Walter Payton Award, while North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl is the only coach to win the Eddie Robinson Award in consecutive seasons (2012 & 2013).



It was a historic run for the Bearkats in the 2016 regular season as they entered the FCS Playoffs at 11-0, becoming the 43rd team in all of FCS since 1978 to navigate an entire regular season unscathed, and just the 28th to do so with at least 11 games played. It was the second time since 2011 that the Kats finished a regular season undefeated (2011). Sam Houston and fellow SLC member McNeese are the only two schools in the nation to have multiple (2) undefeated regular seasons in FCS since 2007.



The Bearkat offense stole much of the headlines in 2016, but P.J. Hall got his fair share on the defensive side as well. Hall finished second in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award for the national defensive player of the year, adding 13 sacks to his career total while finishing with 24.5 tackles for loss. He enters his senior season with 36 career sacks, a mark tied with Andre Finley for the most in program history. 


That was the mantre for the Bearkat offense in 2016, and it fit, considering how quickly the Kats would strike once getting the ball. Sam Houston scored 89 offensive touchdowns a year ago, with 54 of those drives taking up less than 2 minutes on the game clock.   



With an offense as prolific as the Kats’ was in 2016, it’s no surprise that the ball was spread around. Sam Houston boasted a pair of receivers - Yedidiah Louis (1,152) and Nathan Stewart (1,004) - who surpassed 1,000 yards receiving last season. Davion Davis finished just 40 yards short of the mark, keeping the Kats just short of joining the 2013 and 2014 Fordham squads as the only teams in FCS history to sport three 1,000-yard receivers on the roster in the same year.  Eastern Washington managed to pull off the feat in 2016, so should the Kats do it in 2017, they would now be the fourth FCS team in history to do so.



The 2016 season did not end the way the Bearkats thought it would in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs, but going into the game against eventual national champion James Madison, the Kats had been absolutely dominant. Sam Houston did not trail in a game until its 10th game of the season at Northwestern State less than five minutes into the first quarter. Prior to its loss to JMU, Sam Houston had only surrendered a lead at any point on three occasions and its 21-21 tie early in the third quarter of its second-round win over Chattanooga was the first time Sam Houston had not held the lead in the second half at any point in the year. In fact, going into its game at JMU, Sam had only been tied or behind for 65 minutes and 42 seconds of the 720 total minutes played, including 56 minutes and 36 seconds of that span being a 0-0 tie.


Points have not been a problem under head coach K.C. Keeler for the Bearkats. In 44 games since he took over in 2014, the Kats have scored 30 or more points on 36 occasions, going 33-3 in those games. In all, Sam Houston has scored no less than 34 points in each of its last 25 victories.



Wide receiver Yedidiah Louis set a career-high 11 receptions against Northwestern State in 2016, and a week later turned in an even better game with 168 yards and 4 touchdowns in the win over Central Arkansas. In the Kats’ playoff win vs Chattanooga he moved past Matt Dominguez for the all-time Sam Houston mark in career receptions. On the conference side of things, Louis is also approaching new high-water marks among Southland Conference players. He needs just 51 more receiving yards to become the first 3,000-yard receiver in SLC history and needs 325 yards to surpass Dominguez’s school and league mark of 3,273 receving yards and 12 more catches to pass Southeastern Louisiana’s Simmie Yarborough’s SLC record of 229 career receptions.

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