Two things jumped out at Bearkat head coach K. C. Keeler last Sunday when the NCAA Selection Committee announced that 2014 Southland Conference co-champions Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State would be meeting in the opening round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at 1 p.m. at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
“First, it’s not like we’re playing someone we don’t know,” Keeler said. “Every week as we have been preparing to face conference opponents, we’ve seen Southeastern Louisiana on video. They’re an outstanding team.”
The second aspect that excited the Bearkats was the opportunity to play at home in Huntsville.
“There’s no question the home field makes a difference,” Keeler said. “We have a lot of confidence playing on our home field in front of our fans. This is going to be a heck of a game between two great teams.”
Southeastern Louisiana brings a squad that has performed well on both sides of the ball this year while rolling up a 9-3 overall record.
The Lion offense is averaging 480.5 yards and 42.2 points per contest.
Senior quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Bryan Bennett leads the team on the ground and through the air. He has thrown for 18 touchdowns and 2,176 yards, while also rushing for 655 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Senior Devante Scott (45 catches, 1,011 yards, 5 TD) and junior Jeff Smiley (34-568-7 TD) are Bennett’s top targets. Junior Kody Sutton (588 yards, 6 TD), junior Rasheed Harrell (380 yards, 4 TD), and freshman Eugene Bethea (320 yards, 2 TD) team with Bennett to give Southeastern a balanced rushing attack.
Opponents are averaging only 295.2 yards and 18.7 points per contests versus the SLU defense.
Senior Drew Misita (80 tackles), senior Tyler Stoddard (79 tackles), senior Isiah Corbett (65 tackles), junior Micah Eugene (59 tackles) and senior Kaleb Muse (59 tackles) are the team’s most productive playmakers.
Junior Denzel Thompson and Corbett lead the team with four interceptions, followed by senior Marice Sutton, junior Harlan Miller and freshman Ryan Sigers with two apiece. Stoddard, Misita, junior Jordan Batiste and sophomore Derrick Raymond also have picks. Eugene has a team-high two fumble recoveries.
“The regular season is over and this is post-season,” Keeler said. “Since the losses to Colorado State-Pueblo and Northwestern State, every game has been a playoff game for us. Now we have to go out and have that intensity again.”
The first round matchup between Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana will be a rematch of last year’s second round contest, which Southeastern Louisiana won 30-29. The Bearkats, who did not play the Lions this season, lead the all-time series 10-6. However, the Lions have won the last two meetings between the two programs.
The Southland Conference has two ranked teams in the final polls of the regular season. Southeastern Louisiana carries the league’s highest ranking at No. 9 in the FCS Coaches’ poll and an No. 11 ranking in the Sports Network poll. Sam Houston State is No. 19 in both polls.
Sam Houston leads the all-time series with Southeastern Louisiana 10-6. The Lions ended the Bearkats’ hope for the third consecutive championship appearance last season with a 30-29 win in the postseason. The Bearkats are 4-2 at Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, site of the Bearkats’ last win in the series, a 70-0 victory in 2012.
The winner of Saturday’s Sam Houston State vs. Southeastern game will advance to the second round and will play at No. 3 seed Jacksonville State, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m., CT on ESPN3.
PLAYOFF TICKET INFORMATION
Tickets will be available for purchase at all Bowers Stadium Box Office starting at 9:00 a.m. Saturday
Student tickets: First 500 to pick up a ticket receive free admission. Students may pick up a ticket at the North gate of Bowers Stadium on Saturday by showing their active Bearkat OneCard.
Will call will be open at 9:00 a.m. and is located in the West Box Office
Reserved Parking lots to Bowers Stadium will open at 9:00 a.m.
Gates to Bowers Stadium open at 11:30 a.m.