Taking on a McNeese State squad that was desperate for a win after dropping its second Southland Conference game last week, sixth-ranked Sam Houston flexed its muscles and manhandled the Cowboys with a 45-10 thrashing on Saturday night at Bowers Stadium.
The Bearkats produced 541 yards of offense with 348 coming in the rushing game, while the Sam Houston defense held McNeese to 210 offensive yards.
"With us being on the road the past couple of weeks and having a very good crowd out there, it felt very good for us to be able to come out and run the ball on their defense," said Bearkats running back Timothy Flanders, who rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
After the opening 20 minutes were in the books, Sam Houston, which improved to 3-1 in Southland Conference play and 5-2 overall, flipped the page and turned things around in a snap.
McNeese State (1-3, 4-3) took a narrow 10-7 lead a few minutes into the second quarter, but that's the last time the 21st-ranked Cowboys would score.
The Bearkats were just about to start rolling.
From that point on, the Bearkat defense played like men on a mission, getting into the backfield and becoming a major disruption for the Cowboys and their quarterback Cody Stroud.
"That's just the goal of the defense every week is just to keep pressure on them and force them to make big plays and play with a tremendous effort," Sam Houston defensive tackle J.T. Cleveland said.
After a field goal put the Bearkats into a manageable three-point hole with less than 10 minutes to go in the first half, they responded fast.
A little more than two minutes later, junior receiver and wild Bearkat specialist Richard Sincere kicked off what was the beginning of a scoring surge. Following a fourth-down conversion, the speedy receiver exploded for a 44-yard touchdown run through the defensive line. That was just the beginning for the Bearkats' offense.
Sincere's scoring sprint pushed Sam Houston ahead and the Kats didn't look back.
"I've had a really good practice all week, so I was looking forward to having a big game," Sincere said.
A few minutes before intermission, the Bearkats extended their lead to double digits as Flanders punched in for a touchdown from 12 yards out.
With the Bearkats taking a 21-10 advantage into the third quarter, defense and special teams enabled Sam Houston to blow the game wide open and prevent the Cowboys from chipping even a little away at the deficit.
The Kats marched down the field to open the second half and were able to come up with some key conversions before Bell scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1.
Sam Houston was able to get the ball back as Cowboys kick returner Dionta Spencer fumbled the return and Kats freshman safety Tristan Eche recovered at the McNeese 25-yard line. The Bearkats converted that into a 22-yard Miguel Antonio field goal.
Those two series left the Cowboys offense on the sidelines until there was a little less than six minutes to play in the third quarter, but by that time Sam Houston had added 10 points to its lead and put McNeese in a 31-10 bind.
The Cowboys couldn't make anything happen in the third as all they could manage was a three-and-out on three consecutive incompletions and then amassed just 1 yard on the final two plays of the period.
"I didn't know they only had 1 yard. I don't think we were out there much. There were a couple of fumbles on kickoffs, I think," Cleveland said.
"It was just the same thing. We want to be that aggressive. We want to come at them. We want to attack them."
Sincere added another big run in the fourth, this time from 65 yards out to all but seal the victory for the Kats and reserve quarterback Chris Grett rushed for a 7-yard score for good measure.
The Bearkats defense clamped down on the Cowboys in the final three quarters, holding them to just 91 yards and 12 first downs the rest of the way.
"They did a really nice job," Kats coach Willie Fritz said. "Teams come out and they script you. (McNeese State) coach (Matt) Viator really did a nice job in his first couple of series of running some things that we hadn't seen.
"(Sam Houston defensive coordinator Scott) Stoker did a nice job of making adjustments on the sideline."
After being held in check for the most part by opposing defenses all season long, the Bearkats tailbacks finally found some running lanes and made McNeese pay for it.
Against the Southland's second-best rushing defense, the Bearkat stable of tailbacks and quarterbacks carved up the Cowboys for 348 rushing yards on 50 carries and five scores. Sincere also had a 100-yard rushing day, totaling 132 and two scores on 12 carries.
"It felt real good, but that's all part of the game. Every defense is going to have to game plan for it," Flanders said. "Richard had a very good game tonight and Bell did a good job. It's pretty much pick your poison, just like last season.
"It all starts up front with the offensive linemen. They did a very good job. The offensive coaches did a very good job with play-calling. We won this game because we had a very good week of practice."
The Bearkats remain in third place in the conference, trailing Southeastern Louisiana, which Sam Houston hosts in two weeks, by a half-game. Just three conference games remain with road trips to Lamar this week and the Southland finale at Northwestern State on Nov. 10.
Sam Houston is still very much in the hunt for a share of the conference title as well as a playoff berth.