WACO – The No. 3 Sam Houston State Bearkats opened up the 2017 season with a bang, taking down the No. 7 Richmond Spiders, 48-34, on Friday night at McLane Stadium.
The Kats (1-0) and Spiders (0-1) were originally scheduled to play on Sunday, August 27, but due to effects of Hurricane Harvey the teams were forced to reschedule the game and were able to take the field in Waco on Friday night. For Sam Houston, it had little effect.
Jeremiah Briscoe accounted for five touchdowns and threw for 411 yards as the Kats rolled up 683 yards of offense against a Spider defense that allowed just 317 yards per game a year ago in advancing to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
The game took a turn in the second quarter when the teams combined for 49 points, but it was Sam Houston scoring five touchdowns in the period that turned the game on its heels, helping the Kats to their first-ever win in a season opener over a ranked opponent.
Richmond still managed to total over 650 yards itself, but Sam Houston was able to force three turnovers while racking up four sacks, and got a pair of scores off of special teams, including a blocked punt for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Kats proved to be balanced on offense throughout the night, rushing for 272 yards to go with Briscoe’s 411 through the air. Meanwhile, Richmond accounted for 546 yards of its total offense in the passing game.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST HALF
The Bearkats racked up 229 yards in the first quarter, but a turnover and a costly penalty kept them out of the end zone. SHSU took the opening kickoff and marched 30 yards before a fumble ended the drive. One possession later the Kats went 93 yards behind completions to Louis and Stewart, setting up a 23-yard field goal by Tre Honshtein to go up 3-0.
Sam Houston then put an end to the Spiders’ next drive when Josh Price picked off Kyle Lauletta in the end zone. The Kats then took no time getting inside the Spider 15, but had to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Honshtein after a penalty negated what would have been the Kats’ first touchdown of the year.
The Spiders answered with a touchdown drive of their own with Lauletta connecting with Cortrelle Simpson for a 69-yard gain, setting up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Hudson that knotted the score at 6-6.
The Kats would answer back, however, in slightly uncharacteristic fashion when Jeremiah Briscoe broke free for a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to put SHSU back in front 12-6. That opened up a crazy second quarter that saw the teams combine for 49 points. Sam would add two more points on a safety on a botched snap on a punt attempt and then went up 21-6 one drive later when Briscoe connected with Ragan Henderson on a 45-yard touchdown pass up the right sideline.
The teams traded touchdowns on the next four drives with Lauletta connecting with Gordon Collins and Dejon Brissett for the Spider scores. Meanwhile, Briscoe threaded the needle to Coree Compton for a 12-yard score to cap an 83-yard drive along with 60-yard pitch and catch to Davion Davis that saw the junior wide out do most of the work that gave SHSU a 34-20 lead with just 1:28 to go.
Sam Houston’s special teams then got in on the act once again when Navone Gurley blocked a punt and Justin Gil recovered in the end zone for a score, giving the Kats a 41-20 lead at the break after putting up 489 yards of total offense.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE SECOND HALF
Sam Houston got a quick stop to open the third quarter and promptly went back to work, getting in the end zone on just six plays as Corey Avery took a 35-yard pass out of the backfield up the right sideline for a score to up the score to 48-20.
From there, though, the teams somewhat slowed down offensively before Richmond got another one in the end zone late in the quarter on a 16-yard pass from Lauletta to Caleb Drake. The Spiders would cut into the lead once again early in the fourth quarter when Simpson made a one-handed catch on the left side and raced it up the sidelines for 71 yards to the end zone to make it 48-34.
The Kats then turned to the ground game, running 10 plays on its next drive before stalling out; however, the SHSU defense would get a big stop on fourth down to stop the next Richmond drive and one drive later Price would pick off his second pass of the game with just 2:03 remaining to seal the deal.
Sam Houston owned the ground game for the evening with 272 yards rushing to just 106 for the Spiders. Remus Bulmer led the way with 89 yards on 10 carries, while Avery had 65 and Brown 55. The Kats also managed to get in the backfield and force four sacks, with a pair coming from Justin Johnson.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Briscoe turned in the sixth 400-yard passing game of his career, finding seven different receivers on the night. He connected with four separate receivers for scores, while Davion Davis led the way with four catches for 139 yards and a touchdown.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Johnson had his first multi-sack game of his career with a pair of quarterback stops and three tackles for loss, totaling a game-high 11 tackles on the night. Price, meanwhile, was right behind him with eight stops and a pair of picks to become the first Bearkat with a multi-interception game since 2015.
The Bearkats will get a short turnaround with just six days between its meeting with the Spiders and its second game of the year, on Thursday, Sept. 7 at Prairie View. The game against the Panthers is set for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Panther Stadium and will be aired live on ESPNU.
Coach Keeler on the how the pre-game adversity was a factor …
“Having three days where are kids were just sitting around in their rooms was very hard on us. If we played clean it’s the 7th ranked team in the country I think we would’ve probably had the game over in the third quarter, but we didn’t play clean. Going in the thing we knew about Richmond was that they were going to battle, it’s just the kids they have they just keep battling and that’s what they did.”
Coach Keeler on the team fatigue …
“You know there is a new rule where at halftime the clock hits twenty minutes and runs down immediately and we are a three minute hike to our locker room and a three minute hike back so our kids were exhausted just from the walking back and forth to and from the locker room. We felt we were pretty good going into the games, but you know fatigue makes cowards of us all and fatigue really hit us, again I think that was caused by the three days our kids were sitting around doing nothing.”
Coach Keeler on first game jitters …
We had a lot of stuff go wrong for our first game and you could tell it was the first game but we beat the seventh ranked team in the country and we are satisfied with the win so I think we need to double check the way we look at things.
Coach Keeler on the potential positives that can be taken from this game …
“All-in-all travelling up here and spending three days up here with all the hospitality we got, it was a great experience for our kids and was a wonderful bonding opportunity. Down the road we’re hoping that when people start talking about strength of schedule will really help us.”
Coach Keeler on the potential of this year’s squad …
“The biggest improvement a team has is between week one and week two and I’m excited where this team can go from week one to week two.
Coach Keeler on Bearkat mental errors …
“We just had way too many missed assignments. It was evident in Price’s first interception when he tried to return the ball out from the end zone instead of kneeling it, that’s just something we teach every day in that situation. Sometimes you have to live through a real game and learn and improve from that experience. When we play clean I think we’re going to be a really tough team to beat.”
Coach Keeler on playing at Baylor …
“First of all, these people are amazing, Matt Rhule shows up at practice asking if he should bring my filmers over to film practice for you and offering us meeting space. The whole experience here was amazing, we have an alum who owns George’s here locally in Waco and we took the kids there Wednesday night for dinner and wow. I told the kids in the locker room that these last three days of us here bonding is going to go a long way.”
Jeremiah Briscoe on the play of the offense …
“I thought we played decent, we had a lot missed assignments. I think that is something we have to get better and work on and that came from fatigue and lack of focus. It left a bad taste in our mouths but let me tell you we have the best receiving corps in the nation. They make unbelievable plays and catches. We need to continue fine tuning things and getting better. Hey, we are 1-0.”
Briscoe on his 41-yard touchdown run …
“I wouldn’t say running isn’t going to be more part of my game. But rather when I get it I’ll take it. I lost 15 lbs. since the midseason last year. We tried to get me more explosive preparing me for the season.”
Josh Price on his two red-zone interceptions …
“Honestly, that is all coaching. That is me keying on what the coaches are telling me. The coaches putting me into the best position.”
Price on the Kats’ defense strategy …
“Defensive strategy was good coming into the game but we had a lot of missed assignments and lot of lack of focus. I think once we get those things cleaned up and ready to go, we will be much better situation than tonight.”