NATCHITOCHES, La. – The No. 15 Sam Houston State Bearkats shook off a turnover-riddled first half and buckled down in the second half to pick up a 42-28 win over Northwestern State on Saturday night at Turpin Stadium.
Davion Davis caught four touchdown passes and Kyran Jackson accounted for 268 total yards, but it was the Bearkat (4-2, 3-1 SLC) defense who stepped up in the second half to help Sam Houston stay within striking distance of the top spot in the Southland Conference.
Northwestern State (2-4, 1-3 SLC) held a 28-23 lead at the half after a pick-six in the half’s final minute, but were shut out in the second half by the Bearkat defense. The win marks the fourth straight for Sam Houston over the Demons in the all-time series that dates back to 1929, and the first time the Kats have ever won in consecutive trips to Natchitoches.
The Demons entered the game with the top passing offense in the league, and showed why with 278 total yards in the opening two quarters; however, the Bearkat defense held them to just 154 total yards in the second half, with 70 of those yards coming on the game’s final drive.
Quarterback Ty Brock finished just 24 of 49 passing, but his 24 completions went for 374 yards and four touchdowns along with three interceptions. The Kats needed every bit of that as Demon quarterback Shelton Eppler finished with 351 passing yards of his own and three touchdowns, including two to the SLC’s leading receiver, Jazz Ferguson.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Both teams traded turnovers on their first possessions, but it was the Bearkats who were able to cash in after theirs. Zyon McCollum put an end to the first Demon drive as he picked off Eppler inside the Bearkat 10-yard line, and from there Sam Houston would march 88 yards on just nine plays. The Kats took the 7-0 lead when Davis shook a tackle and raced 21 yards on a reception from Brock.
The Bearkats would stop the Demons on the next drive and the offense went to work again, with the Brock-to-Davis connection finishing it off once again. The senior hauled in his second touchdown in as many drives, this one from two yards out, after a spectacular catch from Tyler Scott put the Kats in business inside the NSU 5-yard line. Scott would finish with 96 yards on a team-high seven grabs in the game.
Northwestern State got a score back on the first play of a crazy second quarter when Eppler connected with Ferguson for a 28-yard score. That capped an 11-play drive that was kept alive when NSU was able to convert on a 4th and 10 with a 12-yard pass to Jaylen Watson, and two drives later the Demons managed to tie it up when Eppler connected with Quan Shorts from 44 yards out.
The busy second quarter continued after the Kats fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Northwestern State took the lead at 21-14 on a 20-yard touchdown to Ferguson. But SHSU would then get a break of their own whey Hayden Bourgeois muffed a punt and Royce See pounced on it, setting the Kats up inside the NSU 20-yard line with less than four minutes to play in the half.
Brock then found Davis for the third time in the game, this time from 11 yards out to tie it back up at 21-21. The teams then traded series, but after Cameron Hearn pinned the Demons at their own 5-yard line, Derick Roberson took down Eppler for the third time in the game, this one for a safety to put the Kats ahead 23-21 with just 1:22 to play before the halftime buzzer.
But despite getting the ball back after the free kick, the Kats were their own worst enemy before the break when Brock was picked off by Bourgeois along the right sideline. The Demon safety then raced 55 yards up the boundary to the end zone, surging the Demons ahead 28-23 at the midway point of the game.
Sam Houston got moving again in the third quarter, despite not being able to take advantage of an interception by Jaylen Thomas on the opening drive of the period by the Demons. Still, two possessions later the Bearkats got back in the end zone when Kyran Jackson raced around the left end for a 28-yard score on 4th-and-1. Davis added the two-point conversion and one possession later Tre Honshtein drilled a 46-yard field goal through a downpour that gave SHSU a 34-28 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Kats wasted little time in the fourth quarter adding on to their lead after the defense came up with another stop. A 56-yard screen pass by Brock to Jackson set the Kats up again, and once again it was a connection from Brock to Davis from two yards out that ended the 88-yard drive. Brock then hit Woody Brandom for the two-point conversion and the Kats built up a 42-28 advantage that would be enough for the Kats to make it to the finish line.
- The Bearkat defense allowed 278 yards to the Demon offense in the opening half, but the second half was a different story. The Kats bucked down in the final two quarters and allowed just 154 yards to the Demons, with 70 coming on the final drive.
- Davion Davis’ 11-yard touchdown catch from Brock in the second quarter pushed him over the 3,000-yard mark in receiving yards for his career. He is just the fifth player in Southland Conference history to surpass more than 3,000 yards in a career, four of which are Bearkats. Teammate Nathan Stewart is one of those players, having surpassed the mark in SHSU’s win over Central Arkansas.
- Davis finished with four touchdown grabs on the night, tying his career high that he also set against the Demons when he had four scores in Huntsville in 2017.
– Derick Roberson added another three sacks to his ledger in the first half, taking over the lead with the most sacks in the SLC with a career-high eight. In all, the Kats would finish with five sacks as a team, marking the third straight game the SHSU defense has picked up at least five sacks.
- With interceptions by both Jaylen Thomas and Zyon McCollum, the Bearkats backed up their two-interception performance with two more on Saturday. It is the first time they have had consecutive games with multiple interceptions since 2015 when they did it against Central Arkansas and Southern Utah.
- Kyran Jackson’s 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the longest rush of his career and the longest rush by a Bearkat this season. His 56-yard reception later in the fourth quarter was the longest play by the Kats from scrimmage this year.
- Jackson would finish with 152 yards rushing and 116 yards receiving, becoming the first Bearkat since Corey Avery vs Colgate in 2015 to finish with at least 200 combined yards of rushing/receiving in a single game. According to information available at gametime, he is also the first Bearkat to finish with 100 yards rushing and 100 receiving in a single game.
- The win was the 50th win for head coach K.C. Keeler at Sam Houston. He joins Ron Randleman, Paul Pierce, J.W. Jones and T.F. Wilson as the only coaches in SHSU history to total at least 50 wins.