HOUSTON – Sam Houston State jumped on Stephen F. Austin early and relied on several key defensive stops when the offense stalled, defeating the Lumberjacks, 27-16 in the 92nd edition of the Battle of the Piney Woods on Saturday at NRG Stadium.
The win marked the seventh consecutive for the Bearkats against SFA setting a new record for the longest win streak in the series which dates to 1923. The 27 points were the fewest in a Sam Houston victory since a 21-17 win against Southeastern Louisiana in 2014.
The ninth-ranked Bearkats (4-1, 2-1 Southland) churned out nine first-quarter first downs and limited SFA (2-4, 2-2) to just nine total yards by the end of the frame but did not find paydirt again until Jeremiah Briscoe kept the ball on a called pass play, racing in from 26 yards out with 4:55 left.
The previous five drives prior to the score included a missed field goal, two punts and a turnover on downs. Fortunately, Sam Houston’s defense was up to the task, forcing three turnovers on the afternoon including an interception by Danzell Sims in the endzone with 10:37 left.
Sam Houston’s defense limited SFA to 14 rush yards, the fewest since the Bearkats held Lamar to -23 rush yards in 2010. The Bearkats out-gained the Lumberjacks, 508-219 while the defense was tenacious in the backfield, recording seven sacks while limiting SFA to 3.2 yards per play.
Briscoe finished with 325 yards in the air and a touchdown, upping his total to 85 career touchdown passes. The mark gives him sole possession of Sam Houston’s all-time record, surpassing Brian Bell’s old record of 84.
Davion Davis tied a school record with 13 receptions, matching Torrance Williams (2013) and Jason Mathenia (2004). It also surpassed his career high of 12 which occurred in his first career game at Texas Tech in 2015. The junior totaled a game-best 151 yards with one score.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston took a 14-point lead less than five minutes into the game, scoring on its first two drives, including the game’s opening possession when Corey Avery raced 10 yards into the endzone to cap an 8-play, 71-yard march. They then took advantage of a short field after Spencer Williams covered up a Lumberjack fumble on just their second play from scrimmage as Briscoe hooked up with Davis for a 14-yard score, passing Bell for the record in the process.
The Kats would tack on a 31-yard field goal by Tre Honshtein late in the quarter to go up 17-0 before the ‘Jacks began to claw back. Alize Ward picked off Briscoe early in the quarter, inside the SFA 20 and returned it 52 yards to set up a 42-yard field goal by Storm Ruiz to get the ‘Jacks on the board.
SFA then stopped Sam Houston on a 4th & 1 at the SFA 30 and quarterback Jake Blumrick connected with Tamrick Pace for 53 yards to put the ‘Jacks into scoring position at the SHSU 15. The Bearkat defense stiffened, but Blumrick was able to find the end zone on a 4th-down run from the 1 to bring the score to 17-10. The Kats then ran just two plays before giving it back to SFA on a fumble by Davis inside the Bearkat redzone, setting up a 33-yard field goal by Ruiz that put the score at a 17-13 Bearkat advantage at the half.
Neither team was able to muster much in the third quarter with Sam Houston unable to convert on an interception by Hunter Brown inside the SFA 30 early in the period. The ‘Jacks would trim the lead to 20-16 early in the fourth on the third field goal of the game from Ruiz, this one from 27 yards away with 11:14 to play in the game.
SFA then got aggressive and recovered the ensuing onside kick, but after a 35-yard reception by Frank Iheanacho, the Kats’ Danzell Sims picked off Blumrick in the end zone on the next play to end the Lumberjack threat.
The teams would trade possessions before the Kats regained the ball with 8:01 to go at their own 27. Sam Houston used 11 plays and a pair of SFA penalties to march to the Lumberjack 26. Briscoe then broke loose on the back side of a pass play, racing 26 yards into the left corner of the end zone for what proved to be the game-clinching score.
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the Battle of the Piney Woods win…
“There were too many opportunities on our end we didn’t capitalize on and too many times in the redzone today where we didn’t get it done. What we found today was a defense. Our defense played lights out. It’s tough to win seven times in a row in any series, especially a game like this. It’s a great accomplishment to get that seventh win. I liked how the game ended and we were able to run the ball.”
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the defensive performance…
“Getting P.J. (Hall) back has made a world of difference for us. He can play all four spots on the defensive line. We also made a move and put Erick Fowler at defensive end in some pass rush situations. He really excelled in that. I thought the back end played really well too. I always thought this would be a pretty good defense. I think we grew from last week to this week.”
Head coach K.C. Keeler on the offense…
“They did a good job of shutting off the inside. We were rotating running backs because Corey went down and Yedidiah didn’t play. We were kind of musical chairs a little bit trying to mix and match some substitutions. It was great to see us run the ball at the end of the game. The penalties killed us too. You can’t keep shooting yourself in the foot.”
PJ Hall on the Bearkats’ defensive efforts…
“They had a pretty good defense on their side and they were able to force turnovers so we had to make sure we could stop the momentum and we did what we had to do.”
Davion Davis on his different offensive roles due to injuries… “To me I don’t think it affected me in any type of way. We have backups that are just as good as our starters and everything was good. It didn’t slow us down a beat we just went out there and played our ball.”
Jeremiah Briscoe on his second rushing TD of the season…
“We said after the Richmond game it’s not something we plan on making a habit of but like coach said earlier there was some opportunities for me in the Central Arkansas game to get some pivotal first downs and I tried to fit something in there with my arms instead. So that was something we talked about this week that if there was something there to get what I can and get out. Things just kind of broke down, they were playing man coverage with their backs turned and it’s just one of those things that works out.”
Jeremiah Briscoe on the challenges SFA’s defense presented…
“They have a great defense, a great defensive line like coach said they have three big body guys on the line which is something different than what we saw last week against Central Arkansas. They’re a great defense that does some unorthodox things, but still everything we did negatively on offense was our own fault. We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times and played pretty sloppy offensively including myself the past couple weeks. The thing I’m proud of this week was we kept fighting and fighting and found a way to win even when things weren’t going right. Our defense stepped up huge tonight. The game is on their shoulders. They just played lights-out.”
Jeremiah Briscoe on Danzell Sims’ fourth quarter interception…
“Yeah it was huge, I was standing beside Mitchell Watanabe and he actually called it believe it or not, he said ‘Danzell is about to get a pick watch this.’ We were sitting there going back and forth saying we were going to have to put a drive together one way or another whether they score or not and then he called the interception right before it happened. It was pretty crazy but I mean all around the defense played lights-out."