HUNTSVILLE – The No. 4 Sam Houston State Bearkats overcame a 41-minute weather delay and held on for a 41-32 win over Prairie View to kick off the 2018 season on Saturday night at Bowers Stadium.
The Bearkats (1-0) stretched their home win streak to 21 games at Bowers Stadium, but had to hold off a Prairie View (1-2) team that was seasoned, already playing its third game this year. Breaking in a slew of new players, the Kats finished with just 344 yards of offense, but converted all six times in the red zone and were able to take advantage of three Panther turnovers.
Mike Dare completed half of his 40 pass attempts for 169 yards and a pair of interceptions, but also connected with both Davion Davis and Tyler Scott for a pair of scores in his Bearkat debut. Nathan Stewart also turned in a big night, hauling in seven catches for 120 yards to top all receivers.
The Kats needed that offensive output to withstand the Panther rushing attack that was led by Dawonya Tucker’s 245 yards and two scores on the ground. Defensively, Hunter Brown turned in a big night with 12 stops and a recovered fumble while the Kats finished with 13.0 total tackles for loss on the night.
Much of that came courtesy of the Prairie View special teams units, who were far from sound. The biggest swing of the game came when the Panthers botched snaps on consecutive punts late in the first half, leading to 10 Bearkat points within the final two minutes of the first half, helping the Kats to a 27-23 lead at the break.
The Bearkat offense went three and out to start the game and punted the ball back into PVAMU territory. Despite the slow start, back-to-back sacks by Erick Fowler, Brandon Jackson Jr. and Osi Odume stifled the Panther offense and prompted a three and out in PVAMU’s opening drive.
Continuing play on their own 27-yard line, starting quarterback Mike Dare was picked off by Anthony Stubbs, which set up a 30-yard field goal by Zach Elder that put the Panthers out in front 3-0 less than five minutes into the game.
SHSU came fighting back in the next drive and used a five-yard rush from Kyran Jackson and 13-yard completion to Nathan Stewart to move the ball up to the SHSU 43-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Dare connected three consecutive passes to Scott, Stewart and Davion Davis to move the Kats up to the PVAMU 24yd line. After three failed passing attempts, senior kicker Tre Honshtein unleashed a 42-yard field goal to even up the game, 3-3.
The Panthers fired back on the following drive after Bernard Good returned the ball 22 yards on the kickoff. A 46-yard rush by Tucker placed the ball on the Kats’ own 25-yard line and an 11-yard pass completion followed to put the ball in the red zone. The following snap, Tucker snuck past the SHSU defense and used a 14-yard rush to score the first touchdown of the game and giving the Panthers a 9-3 lead after a failed point-after conversion.
Neither team was able to score on their next drive, but SHSU broke through for its first lead of the game on a four-play, 33-yd drive. Caleb Jolivette sparked the drive with a nine-yard rush and was followed by a six-yard rush from Bulmer to put the ball on the PVAMU 18. After a completed pass to Davis on the 14-yard line, Bulmer broke through the line and tied the game, 9-9 with a 14-yard rush up the middle. Thanks to Honshtein’s successful extra point, SHSU went up 10-9 with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Immediately after the kickoff, lightning in the area halted the action at Bowers Stadium and caused a 41-minute weather delay.
Four minutes into the second quarter, senior linebacker Brown forced a Panther fumble, which he recovered at midfield. Rolling with the momentum, Dare completed a 38-yard pass to Stewart and then rushed the ball six yards to put the Kats on the PVAMU six-yard line. Bulmer pushed the ball forward to the Panther two-yard line and followed up with a two-yard rush for his second touchdown of the game. Sinking his third attempt of the day, Honshtein’s kick put the Kats up 17-9 on four plays.
At the 9:13 mark of the second period, Dare threw his second interception of the night when PVAMU’s Jaylen Harris jumped a route on the outside and raced 46 yards for a touchdown to cut into SHSU’s lead. Elder’s kick went straight through the uprights, making it a 17-16 game in favoring SHSU. Taking control of the ball on downs, the Panthers started their next drive at the SHSU 25yd line. Following a 25-yard touchdown rush and extra-point kick, PVAMU regained the lead, 23-17.
The Bearkat defense came alive with three minutes remaining and stopped the bleeding with a brick-house performance near the center of the field. On the sixth play of PVAMU’s drive, Roberson forced a fumble that was recovered by Spencer Williams on the Panthers’ 12-yard line. Williams picked up five yards on the play to put SHSU in prime scoring position.
Following a four-yard rush by Jackson, Dare completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 1:26 remaining in the half. Honshtein’s successful extra-point kick closed the play and gave SHSU a 24-23 lead. Tacking on three more points before halftime, Honshtein drilled a 20-yard field goal to put the Kats up, 27-23, at the end of the half.
Returning from halftime, the SHSU defense forced the Panthers to punt after five plays and used a touchback to start with the ball on their own 20yd line. Jolivette used a 12yd rush to move the ball to the 32yd line and Dare completed a pass to Steward for a gain of 37yds. Bulmer used three consecutive rushes to gain 15 yards for the Kats and Dare completed a 16yd touchdown pass to Tyler Scott with 9:57 remaining on the clock. Honshtein tallied his third extra-point kick to give SHSU a 34-23 lead – marking the only points of the third quarter.
PVAMU worked their way down to the SHSU 10-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter and Elder let loose a 27-yard field goal to cut into the Kats’ lead, 34-26, with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game.
Making his first collegiate appearance, freshman quarterback Eric Schmid began his SHSU career with a seven-yard rush to the Kats’ own 32-yard line. Immediately following the play, he made the first completion of his career to Davis for a five-yard gain. However, PVAMU’s defense buckled down and forced SHSU to turn to punter Matt McRobert, who pinned the Panthers at their own 15-yard line with the Kats clinging to a two-point lead.
The defense then stepped up, getting a sack from Brailyn Franklin on first down and forced the Panther punt team back on the field. Again the unit did not hold up its end for PVAMU as another short kick left the Kats with the ball at the Panther 26-yard line.
From there, the Kats would ice it, using nearly three minutes off the game clock to march those 26 yards into the end zone, capping it on Bulmer’s second score of the night from nine-yards out.
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the win …
“There were a lot of obstacles to overcome tonight. Not having a game for us yet, and them being in their third game especially. I thought our kids just kept on playing and they did a great job with it.”
Keeler on special teams being the difference in the game …
“That was one of the great things about hiring John Lovett and Matt Merkens. Those two guys put in so much time and effort and we put our best players on special teams. You will see Nathan Stewart back on kickoff returns and Hunter Brown plays on a lot of special teams. It has always been a philosophy going the best guys out on special teams and I think we felt going into this game and into this season we could have a special group on special teams.”
Keeler on the atmosphere of the game …
“Prairie View traveled really well. They brought a great crowd, they brought their band, and that is a really well-coached football team. They are going to be really good now and in the future. It will be a great game for us to have. They are a team that will challenge for their conference championship, but their better days are ahead of them because they have a lot of young players.”
Senior linebacker Hunter Brown on quelling the Prairie View momentum at key times …
“Coach says all the time what you do in tough times and he preaches about it. When those tough times happen you just have to bow your neck you know and I think that’s what we did tonight on a little of occasions. We bowed our neck and stopped them and had big plays.”
Brown on the key stops by the Bearkat defense late in the game …
“Brailyn Franklin started off that drive with that big tackle for loss, that was huge. That really set the tone for the drive. From there on out we just locked down defensively and that’s basically it. They threw everything we expected at us. Brailyn starting off the drive like that was big time.”
Junior wide receiver Nathan Stewart on his big night …
“It felt good. I’ve practiced with Mike since May. We’ve got good chemistry and we’ve spent countless hours practicing, just trying to get that time in. I felt like we started off sort of slow but it came together when it needed to, just like Coach said. I feel like we’ll be better next week.”
Stewart on the offensive balance …
“That’s what you want as a team, you want to have a balanced offense. I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in. With Remus, KJ and the dynamic backs we have and also the strong receiving corps we have. I’ve just been put in a position I can’t describe, I’m so happy.”
Coming Up Next
The Bearkats return to Bowers Stadium Saturday, Sept. 15 for a 6 p.m. contest against the University of North Dakota. Live stats, as well as a live stream on ESPN3, will be available for the game. For all the latest information on the Sam Houston State football team, visit gobearkats.com or follow @BearkatsFB on Twitter.