Huntsville – Senior running back Keshawn Hill rushed for 242 yards including touchdown runs of 13 and 15 yards to lead Sam Houston to a 38-31 victory over Central Arkansas Saturday at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
The victory earns the Bearkats their third Southland Conference football championship in the past four years. Thanks to a Stephen F. Austin victory over Northwestern State, Sam Houston also earns the league's automatic qualifying berth for the FCS playoffs.
The Kats and Southeastern Louisiana tied for the 2014 league title with identical 7-1 record. The Lions and Bearkats did not play this year. The SFA victory gave SHSU the tiebreaker over Southeastern.
The 24-team field and pairings for the playoffs will be announced at 10 a.m. Central Time Sunday on ESPNU.
Sam Houston rolled up 527 yards total offense with 336 on the ground. Quarterback Jared Johnson completed 17 of 28 passes for 191 yards including a 52-yard touchdown to LaDarius Brown that tied the score 21-21 late in the second quarter. Johnson also rushed for 67 yards. Brown caught four passes for 106 yards.
Ryan Howard led Central Arkansas, completing 26 of 44 passes for 324 yards. He threw four touchdown passes. The Bearts totaled 450 yards total offense.
Sam Houston's defense repeatedly came up with big plays, led by Michael Wade with 11 tackles and P. J. Hall with two quarterback sacks, another tackle for loss and a field goal block.
The title is the sixth Southland championship for Sam Houston in 28 years in the league. The Bearkats won in 1991, 2001, 2004, 2011, 2012 and now 2014.
The first half was a roller coaster with Central Arkansas opening with a 66-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Howard to Jatavious Wilson to go up 7-0 with 8:19 to play in the first quarter.
Sam Houston answered with an eight-play, 79-yard drive with Donavan Williams scoring from the one-yard line with 5:23 left in the first period. A 61-yard run by Hill to the UCA 15 was the big play in drive.
Hill’s 13-yard touchdown with 1:08 left in the opening period capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive to up the Bearkats up 14-7.
Central Arkansas drove to the Sam Houston five-yard line where Mouf Adebo stopped Dominique Thomas for a four-yard loss to force a field goal attempt that went wide right.
The Bears responded with a field goal block by Jordan Toliver that was returned to the SHSU 46-yard line and set up a Howard touchdown pass to Dezmin Lewis to tie the contest 14-14 with 3:52 left before intermission.
An interception by Jonathan Woodward set up a Howard 22-yard touchdown pass to Desmond Smith with 2:40 left to put UCA up 21-14.
Sam Houston bounced back, rolling 78-yards in five plays as Johnson hit LaDarius Brown for a 52-yard touchdown down the right sideline with 1:35 left in the second quarter to tie the game again 21-21.
A field goal block by P. J. Hall set up a 32-yard field goal by Luc Swimberghe with only seven seconds left before the break as Sam Houston took a 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.
On Sam Houston’s first drive of the second half, Hill scored again, this time from 15 yards out to give the Kats a 31-21 lead with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter. Don King added a seven-yard touchdown on a fake field goal as SHSU upped their margin to 38-21 with 4:05 left in the period.
A short punt gave UCA the ball at the Bearkat 44. A 38-yard run by Willlie Matthews set up the second Howard to Carmical TD pass, this time for five yards with 14:50 to play in the fourth.
Central Arkansas added a 39-yard field goal with 3:30 to play to cut the margin to 38-31 but the Bearkat offense was able to run out the clock to earn the title.