HOUSTON – A momentum-changing 28-yard interception return touchdown by junior cornerback Eli Jones pushed the SFA football team ahead 20-17 with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter, but rv/rv Sam Houston State answered by scoring the game’s final 14 points and forced two of the ‘Jacks’ six turnovers to walk away with a 31-20 win in the 94th annual Battle of the Piney Woods Saturday inside NRG Stadium.
• Senior wide receiver Tamrick Pace’s return to the field paid immediate dividends for the ‘Jacks as he took the game’s opening kickoff back 45 yards to the ‘Jacks’ 46 yard line. Though SFA didn’t score on the opening drive after Storm Ruiz short-legged a 42-yard
field goal attempt, Pace made his presence known later in the frame to set up SFA’s first touchdown.
• After Romello Bentley put the ‘Jacks’ into Bearkat territory with a 13-yard punt return, Self did the rest. The sophomore fired a 42-yard strike to Pace who got taken down at Sam Houston State’s three yard line. From there, Self handed off to Josh McGowen who went around the left end for his fourth touchdown of the year. The junior’s three-yard sprint put SFA ahead 7-0 with 4:20 left in the quarter.
• The ‘Jacks’ defense set the tone in the opening quarter, limiting the Bearkats to just nine yards. On offense, SFA racked up 141 yards to get the early jump on their Piney Woods rivals.
• Continuing their lengthy drive that started with 3:34 remaining in the opening quarter, the ‘Jacks pushed deeper into Bearkat territory in order to open up a double-digit lead. A 14-yard strike from Self to Gipson put SFA at Sam Houston State’s 14 yard line, but three consecutive run plays yielded just six yards and the ‘Jacks had to settle for a field goal. Storm Ruiz obliged, banging home a 30-yarder which pushed SFA’s lead to 10-0 with 11:51 left in the half.
• Flexing their offensive muscles, the Bearkats used a quick-strike offense to get on the board for the first time. Nathan Stewart hauled in a 50-yard pass from Ty Brock, beating the outstretched hands of two Lumberjack defenders in the process, to put the Bearkats’ at SFA’s three yard line. Donovan Williams did the rest, rushing twice for three yards and Sam Houston State’s first touchdown of the afternoon. The score with 6:33 left trimmed the ‘Jacks’ lead to 10-7.
• The ‘Jacks’ offense generated just 16 more yards through the rest of the quarter after the Bearkats got on the board. Sam Houston State, however, suffered from no such difficulties on offense and embarked on a seven-play, 55-yard drive to take the lead.
• Sam Houston State converted a pair of third downs during their second and final scoring drive of the half. The final one came on a seven-yard toss to Woody Brandom that put Sam Houston State on the ‘Jacks’ 32.
• A dose of trickery pushed the Bearkats in front as Noah Smith took a backward pass from Brock and hit Ife Adeyi for a 32-yard touchdown. That pushed Sam Houston State in front by a 14-10 score with 50 seconds to go in the half.
• Turnovers and defense told the tale of the third quarter as each team committed an interception in the scoreless frame. Those picks happened on consecutive plays and SFA’s was one of two turnovers the ‘Jacks committed in the quarter.
• Fortunately, SFA’s defense forced three-and-outs on three of the Bearkats’ five possessions to make sure their offense remained within striking distance.
• It was the Bearkats, however, who finally got the chains moving for an extended period of time. Sam Houston State’s 12-play, 92-yard drive started in the third before moving into the early stages of the game’s final quarter.
• SFA did an admirable job of denying the Bearkats a touchdown. Facing down a Sam Houston State offense that had a first and goal opportunity on the ‘Jacks’ three yard line, SFA limited Williams to one yard on the first play of the drive before watching a mishandled handoff fall to the ground.
• Sam Houston State got the ball back after the fumble and Brock sailed a third and goal pass past Coree Compton in the back of the endzone. The Bearkats were forced to settle for a field goal from 23 yards out that pushed their lead to 17-10.
• Back-to-back receptions from Self to Gipson on SFA’s ensuing drive totaled 50 yards and put SFA in business at the Bearkats’ 37. Another 15-yard completion, this one to Remi Simmons, put SFA at Sam Houston State’s 23 before a failed 11-yard reverse put SFA back at the Bearkats’ 34.
• Ruiz came on once again and was the beneficiary of a friendly bounce off of the crossbar on his 51-yard field goal. The senior’s career-long field goal – and the longest field goal by an SFA kicker since 2009 – trimmed the Bearkats’ lead to 17-13.
• Jones’ pick-six came on Sam Houston State’s second play of the ensuing drive and put the ‘Jacks in the lead, 20-17. SFA, however, would enter Bearkat territory just one more time for the rest of the game.
• Still holding a three-point lead with 8:39 to go, the ‘Jacks gave up the lead as a result of another big gainer by the Bearkats. After Williams chewed up 28 yards on five consecutive rushes, Brock hit Nathan Stewart for a 45-yard touchdown that put Sam Houston State up 24-20 with 6:20 left.
• Things went from bad to worse for SFA when Self was sacked and fumbled the ball on his own 18 on the ensuing SFA possession. Sam Houston State pounced on the fumble and Williams did the rest by rumbling for 19 yards on three plays
for his second touchdown of the night. That score made matters 31-20 and though Self was able to get the ‘Jacks down to Sam Houston State’s 29 yard line, an interception on second and 10 all but sealed the deal for the Bearkats.
Key Performers/Statistics of Note
• McGowen raced in for his team-leading fourth touchdown of the season to put the ‘Jacks on top early. It was SFA’s only offensive touchdown of the game.
• After holding the Bearkats’ ground game to almost nothing in the first quarter, the ‘Jacks’ defense had trouble keeping the clamps on it for the rest of the night. Williams powered the run game, finishing with 127 yards and a pair of scores.
• Self finished with 260 yards through the air, but was hindered by his three interceptions. Gipson was his favorite target as the freshman hauled in six balls for a season-high 97 yards.
• In his first game of the season, Pace latched on to six balls and finished with 63 receiving yards.
• For the Bearkats’ Brock also tossed three interceptions but did finish with one touchdown. Stewart finished with 134 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
• Gerard McKnight and Trenton Gordon finished with 10 tackles each to pace the ‘Jacks’ defensive unit.
• Sam Houston State put on a strong showing on defense, finishing with five sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Royce See had nine stops, a forced fumble and a pair of picks for the Bearkats who won their ninth in a row over the ‘Jacks.
Coming Up Next
• SFA get a bye week before making a lengthy road trip out to Abilene, Texas, for another Southland Conference bout. At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, the ‘Jacks will do battle with Abilene Christian.