HUNTSVILLE – On a night where the matchup of spread offense against triple option lived up to the billing, the Sam Houston State defense did its part to steal the show.
The Bearkats stopped Kennesaw State on 4th-and-five at Sam Houston’s 15-yard line with 1:24 remaining, locking up a 34-27 FCS Playoffs quarterfinals victory at Bowers Stadium on Saturday night.
With the win, Sam Houston advances to its third semifinals in four seasons. The Kats visit North Dakota State on Friday at 7 p.m. CT with the game broadcast on ESPN2. The matchup will be the first between the two teams since the 2014 season, a game that was also in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs.
Fans interested in purchasing tickets can call the Bearkat Ticket Office at 936-294-1729.
The Bearkats (12-1) racked up 482 yards of offense for the game, but had to hold off a Kennesaw (12-2) team who entered the game leading the nation in rushing. The Owls piled up 352 yards on the ground including a team-high 120 yards from Shaqil Terry on just five carries.
Meanwhile, for Sam Houston, Corey Avery rushed for 129 yards and a score for the Kats on 21 carries. The senior went over the 1,000-yard mark and joined Timothy Flanders as the only Bearkats with multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons in their careers.
Avery converted a pair of key fourth-down conversions for the Kats including a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, extending Sam Houston’s lead to 24-10 with 9:57 to go in the half. The back also set up Sam Houston’s go-ahead touchdown at 14-7 on a 19-yard, fourth-down scamper late in the first quarter.
Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe completed 20 of his 29 passes for 313 yards and three scores, including a pair to fellow senior Yedidiah Louis who had a game-high 123 yards receiving. Briscoe’s 4,714 yards passing sets a new single-season record at Sam Houston, surpassing his record set last year.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Kennesaw State took its opening drive 43 yards in seven play, scoring the game’s first touchdown but the Bearkats did not wait long to strike back. Sam Houston needed just four plays including a 61-yard long ball from Briscoe to Nathan Stewart, who hauled it in for the touchdown. The completion put the wideout over 1,500 yards for the season on his 25th career receiving score.
Kennesaw followed by missing a 42-yard field goal wide right. On the ensuing possession, Briscoe found Ragan Henderson for a big gain over the middle and Avery rushed for 19 yards on 4th & 2 down to the Kennesaw 33-yard line. Louis scored from 16 yards out on the screen pass for the 14-7 lead with 3:10 in the first quarter.
The Sam Houston defense, led by Chris Stewart’s 15 tackles and 11 more from P.J. Hall, stuffed the Owls option attack on 4th-and-four resulting in a loss of five. The offense took over inside Kennesaw territory at the 48-yard line was able to capitalize, tacking on three points courtesy of the 22-yard Tre Honshtein field goal and 17-7 lead.
After forcing a three-and-out, Sam Houston drove 58 yards in 10 plays including a 1-yard leaping touchdown from Avery on fourth-and-goal, extending the advantage to 24-10. The drive took 4:12 and highlighted a rare occasion in which the Kats led the time of possession at the half.
Kennesaw cut into its deficit with another field goal in the second half, capping a 14-play, 71-yard drive that took 7-plus minutes. The Owls faced a fourth-and-three at the Sam Houston 12-yard line but the Owls’ head coach was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during the timeout.
Justin Thompson’s ensuing 44-yard field goal came up short but the Owls had another chance on a Sam Houston holding penalty and capitalized, hitting the 34 yarder, trimming Sam Houston’s lead to 24-13. The Kats answered on their next drive as Honshtein drilled a 21-yard field goal with 1:46 in the third.
The Owls continued to pound it out on the ground, cutting Sam Houston’s lead to a touchdown behind a 50-yard rush from Terry to set up a 4-yard run to paydirt moments into the fourth quarter. Once again, the Kats wasted little time in responding.
Sam Houston turned to the air as Briscoe hit Louis for 23 yards down the middle and after a 16-yard rush from Avery, Louis made a man miss for a 15-yard touchdown reception. The catch and score was his second of the game and extended the Kats lead to 34-20.
For the second time in the fourth quarter, Kennesaw cut the Bearkat lead to a touchdown, doing so on a 23-yard pass from Chandler Burks to T.J. Reed with 7:21 left in the game.
OTHER NOTABLES IN THE WIN
With the victory, Sam Houston captured 12 wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. It marks just the third time overall the Bearkats have won 12-or-more games.
Zyon McCollum came away with his third interception of the season with 12:48 in the third quarter. The takeaway halted a 5-play drive in Sam Houston territory at the 39-yard line. Following the pick, the Owls ran the ball 23 consecutive times.
The win was the 20th consecutive victory for Sam Houston at Bowers Stadium, setting a new mark for the second-longest home streak in school history. The victory also extended Sam Houston’s overall record to 13-0 in the FCS Playoffs at Bowers.
The playoff victory was the first against a member of the Big South Conference. The win moves Sam Houston to 3-0 all-time against the league with a pair of regular-season victories coming against Gardner- Webb in 2008 and 2010.
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the quarterfinals victory…
“Our kids played with a lot of emotion, sometimes too much emotion and I got a little emotional out there. I think it hurts a little bit at times. I rather have us play with a lot of passion than no passion at all. It’s not another game, it’s a one game season. When you get into playoff it’s a whole different season. I think I have a great team. I think I have some of the best offensive weapons in the country. We have everything to win a championship. We have the talent. We have the chemistry. We have the character and we have the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality.”
Head coach K.C. Keeler on facing North Dakota State…
“It’s our third final four in three years. It’s North Dakota State and now it’s James Madison coming into the mix with what they done these last two years. We have been the third wheel and we know that. We’re excited, with the way this defense can play, I think it’s going to be a great contest at their place.”
Chris Stewart on the final 4th force out…
“The whole game we were anticipating that they were going to try to have a full flow to us and bring something back so that was always in the back of our mind. Before we went out and for that series, coach told us to look for that and that’s what we did and I’m thankful that we did because that was the play that won the game for us. It was a play we practiced all week. We had extra walk-throughs during the week so we kind of knew what they wanted to do down in that area so that helped a lot.”
Jeremiah Briscoe on his last game at Bower Stadium…
“It was pretty incredible, we definitely made it interesting there. But I love this place, I love playing in front of our fans. This place is very special to me and for that to be the last game here is a pretty incredible way to go out. Winning a quarterfinal game against a great team, coming down to the wire I don’t think that I could’ve asked for anymore. It’s definitely not easy having this be the last game but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”