HAMMOND, La. – For one of the nation’s top passing offenses, it was the running game and firm defensive play in the second half that helped the No. 5 Sam Houston State Bearkats snap Southeastern Louisiana’s five-game win streak, 33-23, on Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium.
The Bearkats (7-1, 5-1 SLC) got 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Corey Avery and held the Lions (5-4, 5-2 SLC), who entered the game ranked second in the nation in rushing, to just 202 yards on the ground to earn their first win in Hammond since the 2011 season.
Avery finished with a season-high 167 all-purpose yards to pace the Kats, who finished with 211 of their 375 total yards on the ground. Remus Bulmer added 72 rushing yards and Yedidiah Louis had 78 yards receiving on seven catches in his return after missing the Bearkats’ last three games.
Jeremiah Briscoe put the ball in the air 26 times on the night, completing 13 passes for 164 yards and a score. Meanwhile, the Kats got a big defensive effort from linebacker Justin Johnson who finished with 11 tackles and two of Sam Houston’s four sacks on the night.
The Kats trailed 10-9 early and found themselves tied 23-23 midway through the third quarter before scoring the game’s final 10 points. From there the defense took over, racking up four sacks on the final three Lion drives, including two apiece from Johnson and Chris Stewart.
Those sacks helped the Bearkats hold the Lions to -17 rushing yards in the fourth quarter and just 114 total yards in the game’s final two quarters.
The Bearkats will return home on Saturday to take on UIW at Bowers Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN3.
The Bearkats got on the board first, going up 2-0 on a safety courtesy of a bad Southeastern snap on a punt attempt after the defense had forced an early stop on the first Lion drive of the night. Sam Houston then took advantage of the free kick, going 60 yards on six plays into the end zone. A 45-yard pass from Briscoe to Nathan Stewart set up the score and pushed Stewart over the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career. The Kats would finish off the drive when Briscoe found Davion Davis from two yards out on 4th and 1 in the right corner of the end zone.
Southeastern had -21 yards of offense on their first two drives, but got it going on their third drive, going 75 yards on 15 plays to cut the lead to 9-3 on a 32-yard field goal by Dillon Burkhard on the final play of the first quarter. The Lions would then force a three-and-out by the Kats and take the lead, 10-9, on the next drive when quarterback Lorenzo Nunez connected with Austin Mitchell from 22 yards out to put an exclamation point on a 5-play, 61-yard drive.
Sam Houston would turn to the ground game on its next drive to surge back in front, using the run on 12 of 14 plays of an 80-yard drive to go back up 16-10. The Kats looked as though they would settle for a 32-yard field goal before an 11-yard run by Adrian Contreras on a fake set up a score from Davis on a rush around the right end with 7:38 left in the half.
But Southeastern would get two more field goals from Burkhard, a 21-yarder on the next drive and another from 32 out on the final play of the half to tie it up at 16-16 at the midway point.
The Kats wasted no time going back in front in the second half as a pair of penalties started the Lions inside their own five-yard line after the opening kick and Sam Houston’s defense held firm in forcing a punt. A solid return from Davis started the Kats at the Lion 26 and five plays later Avery punched it in from two yards out on 4th and goal to put Sam back in the lead, 23-16.
QUOTABLES Coach K.C. Keeler’s opening statement …
"Corey had a great day and Remus is not a dropoff at all. We did some good things, it was good to get Yedi back and it was a great team win. The special teams play on the fake field goal was a huge play. The defense got the stops they needed to get in the second half. I think we beat a playoff-caliber team at their place, which is a tough place to play. We are excited to be 7-1 and we can keep on moving on."
Keeler on the looks Southeastern was giving the Kats …
"We joke offensively and defensively that we don’t know why we even practice because we don’t know what we are going to be getting from week to week. So this was a different look that they haven’t shown a whole lot of, and it allowed us to run the football. We executed at a pretty good rate and played clean. And we had to for this win, to beat a good football team who was on a roll. When you look at what they’ve done the last five weeks, in the second half they have just taken the games over."
Keeler on holding down one of the nation’s top rushing offenses …
"It’s really difficult to prepare for what they do, but I thought we did a really good job. They threw some wrinkles at us and they started doing a lot more quarterback run. We decided in the second half when they started throwing the football that we were going to do some green doggin’, so that’s where Justin (Johnson) got those sacks. And those were two huge sacks that he had that really set the tone for the second half."
Keeler on getting a big win on the road …
"This is where playoff teams are made. You have to play well, you have to go on the road and you have to be able to beat a good opponent, sometimes doing things you don’t normally do. You have to do things that might not be your forte and do them well. Like the special teams play, it was great to see it executed the way it was. I thought all three phases stepped up and did what they needed to do to help us win a ballgame."
Justin Johnson on getting a big road win …
"Our effort was pretty good. We knew we were going to be challenged and that this was a tough place to play, and the first time playing here for most of us, including myself. It lived up to what coach said it would. Our defense kept fighting until the end."
Johnson on his two second-half sacks …
"Sacks create a lot of energy on the sideline. Big plays, big stops really tends to get everyone going. It was great to be able to make those plays and help our guys get the energy that we needed."
Johnson on the defensive effort …
"We knew coming into the game that we were going to have to play assignment football, and in this case, it meant stopping the run because we knew they were a high run team. We all did our 1/11th on the field to stop the run and force them to do something that they didn’t want to do, which was pass."
Corey Avery on the Kats outrushing the league’s leading rushing team …
"It means a lot that we were able to outrush them tonight. We know Jeremiah (Briscoe) can put the ball in the air, but this really shows that we can run the ball too. No matter if they if they were leading the league in rushing, we know that we can run it as good as anyone."
Avery on the Kats’ offensive effort …
"We are always going to take it personally when someone else is first place in something. Whether it’s passing, or our defense or anything else. We are always going to take it personally because we want to be No. 1 in every category."
Avery on what was working for the rushing game …
"Our offensive line was doing their part and making holes all night long. When we would send people in motion they would overrun it and we were able to get take advantage of the looks that they were giving us."