Huntsville -- A muffed punt and a blocked field goal set up two Donavan Williams touchdown runs as Sam Houston scored 14 fourth quarter points to defeat Southeastern Louisiana 21-17 in an FCS opening round playoff game Saturday at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
The Bearkats advance meet Jacksonville State in the second round at Jacksonville next Saturday.
The punt muff was recovered by Demartie Allen and the block by defensive end P. J. Hall set up runs of three and one yards, respectively by Williams.
Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett had given the Lions a 17-14 lead with three-yard scoring run with 11:11 left to play. Bennett, who also scored a nine-yard touchdown in the second quarter, tied the SLU school record for career rushing TDs with 33 with his performance Saturday.
Bennett completed 17 of 48 passes for 181 yards. Sam Houston quarterback Jared Johnson was the game’s top rusher with 17 carries for 63 yards and passed for 119 more on 12 of 32 passes.
The special teams play combined with an outstanding performance by the Bearkat defense helped stifle a offensive attack by No. 11 ranked Southeastern Louisiana that is regarded as one of the tops in FCS nationally.
“Southeastern Louisiana is as good a team as we will face this year,” Head Coach K. C. Keeler said. “We wouldn’t have won this game earlier in the season. But this team keeps on coming along and they keep challenging each other. It’s a young team but we show growth every single week.”
Hall was a key on defense for Sam Houston with four tackles for 22 yards in losses including one QB sack. The Jerry Rice Award finalist for FCS “Freshman of the Year” and Southland Conference “Freshman of the Year” award winner also picked up his fourth kick block of the season. The SHSU defense sacked Lion QBs three times for losses of 29 yards.
Safety Michael Wade made 13 tackles including 11 solos for the Bearkat defense.
Sam Houston and Southeastern Louisiana, co-champions in the Southland Conference with identical 7-1 league records who did not play during the regular season, both own 9-4 records. The Lions knocked Sam Houston out of the playoffs in the second round last year with a 30-29 defeat in Hammond, La.
What was touted as an offensive battle during ESPN’s pregame turned out to be a defensive struggle in the opening half. The Lions’ Tyler Stoddard recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Sam Houston 20-yard line to set up a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Adams just 1:20 into the contest.
Bryan Bennett extended the Southeastern Louisiana lead to 10-0 with a nine-yard touchdown 41 seconds into the second quarter following an eight-play, 64-yard drive.
On the ensuing drive, Sam Houston drove 68 yards in 14 plays to the Lion one-yard line. But safety Micah Eugene stopped Donavan Williams on a fourth-down option play to right for a five-yard loss.
SLU limited the Bearkats to 87 yards rushing and 78 passing on 7 of 22 attempts in the first 30 minutes.
Jalen Overstreet’s three-yard run up the middle with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter completed a six-play, 50-yard drive to put the Kats on the scoreboard. Jared Johnson’s 33-yard pass to LaDarius Brown to the Lion 14 set up the score as the SLU margin was cut to 10-7.
A muffed punt recovered by Demartie Allen at the Lion four-yard line at the end of the third quarter set up a one-yard scoring dive by Donavan Williams that gave SHSU its first lead 14-10 three seconds in the final period.
The Lions retook the lead 17-14 with a 10-play, 58-yard drive after the kickoff. Bennett scored with a three-yard dash around left end with 11:11 remaining. The score was Bennett’s 31st career rushing TD, tying a Southeastern Louisiana record.
The blocked field goal by Hall set up a 65-yard, six play drive for a five-yard touchdown on an option play by Williams for what proved the game-winning touchdown.
After a poor offensive showing in the first half, the Bearkats played better in the second half and accomplished what it needed to do aided by outstanding defensive play.
“At halftime, we asked the kids, how do you want to feel about collecting their equipment after the game, because that’s what a loss in the playoffs means,” Keeler said. “Is it going to be, ‘You know what? We can look each other in the eye and say we battled.’ Or is it going to be ‘We rolled out our helmets, they weren’t very impressed and they beat us.’ The kids responded.”