PRAIRIE VIEW – Third-ranked Sam Houston State produced a big first quarter and took advantage of Prairie View miscues late to hold off the Panthers, 44-31, on Thursday night at Panther Stadium.
Davion Davis and Javin Webb each had a pair of touchdowns for the Kats (2-0), but it was a key kickoff return by Jaylen Harris in the third quarter that spelled a Panther (0-1) loss before the Sam Houston defense caused a pair of turnovers on the final two drives of the game to hold on for the win.
The Panthers were playing in their season opener after having their intended season-opening game against Texas Southern postponed due to Hurricane Harvey, but they were still able to churn out 499 yards of offense behind 291 yards of total offense by quarterback Lavell McCullers.
Still, Sam Houston was able to build a 24-3 lead in the early going and was aided by 16 Prairie View penalties for 200 yards to help the cause.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST HALF
Sam Houston finished with points on five of its six drives in the opening half, but surrendered a pair of touchdowns to the Panthers on their final two drives of the second quarter to take a 30-17 lead into the half.
The Kats racked up 297 total yards in the opening two quarters, and took advantage of a Prairie View penalty on the opening drive of the game to go up 7-0. Sam Houston looked to go 3-and-out on its first possession before PVAM committed a personal foul that kept the drive alive. Passes to Nathan Stewart and Davion Davis followed, getting the ball inside the red zone before Briscoe hooked up with Davis once again on a 12-yard strike to take the early lead.
The teams would trade field goals on their next two possessions and Sam Houston was able to take advantage of a shanked punt, going 54 yards on just five plays as Javin Webb gave the Kats a 17-3 lead with a 7-yard score.
Sam Houston’s defense would get consecutive stops on the next two Prairie View drives, stopping the Panthers after an interception stopped a Bearkat drive inside the PVAM 25. The second stop yielded another short Prairie View punt, setting the Kats up at its own 46. From there Sam Houston would convert a pair of 4th-down tries on its way to the end zone, a drive that once again ended in a 2-yard plunge from Webb to push the lead to 24-3.
Prairie View finally answered one possession later as Dawonya Tucker found paydirt from 34 yards away to trim the lead to 24-10 and complete a 58-yard drive on just four plays. But the quick-strike Bearkat offense went to work, using just 1:59 to get the lead back up to 30-10. A 23-yard completion to Stewart set things up for Davis once again as the junior receiver hauled in a 28-yard score to cap the drive.
But the Kats could not hold PVAM back going into the half as they used just 38 seconds to go 66 yards to the end zone, scoring on a 1-yard run from Lavell McCullers with just two seconds remaining in the half.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE SECOND HALF
Prairie View picked right up where they left off to start the second half as a 44-yard run from McCullers highlighted the Panthers’ third consecutive scoring drive, using up 6:40 off the game clock. Sam Houston immediately responded as Jaylen Harris took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for his first career kickoff return for touchdown, pushing the lead back to 37-24.
In all, the Bearkats ran just two offensive plays in the third quarter, but still entered the fourth quarter with a 37-24 lead after Azuka Mgbemena and Spencer Williams combined to stop the Panthers on a 4th and 5 play and turn the ball over following Harris’ touchdown.
Sam Houston would take advantage of getting the ball back, converting into points on its first offensive possession of the half as they used 11 plays to go 66 yards to push the lead back to 44-24. A 23-yard gain to Davis on first down was the big play of the drive and Briscoe was able to cap it by finding Stewart in the left corner of the end zone for a 7-yard score, his third touchdown toss of the night.
But Prairie View was not done as they took the next kickoff 85 yards back to the Bearkat 15-yard line and three plays later found themselves in the end zone once again on a 15-yard run by Tucker.
With the score at 44-31 the Panthers went back to work, but the Bearkat defense stepped back up as Royce See stripped Neiko Hollins of the ball, recovering the fumble for the first takeaway of the night for Sam Houston with just 7:06 to play.
Briscoe then went deep and hit Stewart for 46 yards on the very next play to the Prairie View 10-yard line. But the Kats could not convert the penetration into points as a penalty backed them up and the Panthers blocked a field-goal try by Tre Honshtein to keep the game at 44-31 with just 4:32 left in the game.
Jaylen Harris’ 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the first of his career and the fifth-longest in Bearkat history. It was also the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a Bearkat since Brandon Closner had an 82-yard return for a score against Montana State in 2011.
Davion Davis’ two touchdown receptions gave him 15 for his career, tying him with Jason Mathenia for seventh all-time at Sam Houston.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Davion Davis hauled in seven catches for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the night, while fellow receiver Nathan Stewart added five catches for 117 yards. That included a key 7-yard score in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers away. Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe finished with 289 yards through the air and three touchdowns, while Corey Avery’s 44 yards on the ground was tops among a Bearkat running back corps that picked up 123 yards.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Adrian Contreras led the Kats with nine tackles, but his biggest play came on Prairie View’s final drive when he forced a fumble that was recovered by Torian Williams. That was one of two Bearkat takeaways on the night with Royce See claiming the other one drive prior when he stripped Neiko Hollins and recovered the ball to end another Panther drive. Chris Stewart turned in a solid game with six tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and a sack, while Hunter Brown also had six tackles and a sack.
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the competition of the game …
“I think we got about what we got. We thought we were going to get a good football team. Obviously we did not get a chance to get any film on them. We knew they got a high-powered quarterback that transferred from a junior college, we saw his film and really liked him. We knew they led the country in scoring in 2015 and had a bunch of skill kids. I thought their offensive line did a real nice job of protecting and that they had a really good scheme. We are thankful to get a win. Definitely thankful to have some time down before we play Nicholls.”
Keeler on Kats getting two wins to open the season under tough circumstances …
“I like this team. I think we are going to be really good. We are kind of banged up and we had to have some guys step up and make some plays. It was good to see some guys get some opportunities and take advantage of them, but we just were not clean enough. We have to play cleaner than we played. But we thought their offense was going to be a handful, and they were. I thought getting the kickoff return for a touchdown took some pressure off the offense that they didn’t have to go and score right away. I was really impressed with Prairie View. They are going to win a lot of ballgames.”
Keeler on special teams play …
“We both had our issues. They had a huge run on a return, but had some issues with their punt protection. They had three penalties in a row and shanked a couple to give us great field position. We had the three low kicks in a row on the field goal. I think early on there are going to be some mistakes in special teams and I think right now neither of us are where we want to be in that aspect of our game.”
Keeler on key downs …
“I thought Prairie View did a great job on their money downs – third and fourth downs – where they were able to make those plays and extend drives. For how well we played on third and fourth downs, and the red zone last week, we did not have the same productivity. I give them all the credit on that.”
Jaylen Harris on the kick return touchdown…
“Coach Segler always tells us that special teams is one-third of the game. Anytime they get a touchdown, we have to do our part to get the momentum back into our hands. He coached it up. The play we called has a lane open up towards the sideline and it opened up big. I followed Javin (Webb) all the way to the endzone. We worked hard this week and came in with a plan.”
Jaylen Harris on being 2-0 and the upcoming bye week…
“It feels great. We always talk about going 1-0 for the week. We worked hard and executed the plan. It feels good to get our legs back under us. We’ll still be preparing and getting ready for the next game.”
Nathan Stewart on the performance from him and Davion Davis as well as being 2-0…
“We knew coming into this game that these guys have Cover 1 and Cover 2. We just knew once we got we got one-on-one opportunities, we had to make the best of them. We looked to execute. This summer, training camp, Coach Keeler pushed us so hard. We looked to go 1-0 every day. That’s how we are taking it. 2-0 feels good.”