Bearkats overcome deficit, defeat Demons 40-36

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The Sam Houston State Bearkats defeated the Northwestern State Demons Saturday at Bowers stadium 40-36 to improve to 3-1 against Southland Conference opponents (5-1 overall).

This matchup was just the second game of the year at Bowers Stadium, and it was a roller coaster of emotions.  The Kats entered the game without senior wide receiver Yedidiah Louis, the school’s all-time receiving leader.  Louis has now missed two straight weeks due to a hamstring injury.

“Having the player of the year in your conference not available, it hurts you,” head coach K.C. Keeler said. “What we decided to do was to make a conscious effort to get him healthy.”

The Demons started the game strong as their first two plays went for 39 and 15 yards, respectively.  A fumbled snap, which resulted in a loss of nine yards, stalled the Demons’ drive and forced a 31-yard field goal that gave the Demons a 3-0 lead with 12:30 left in the opening quarter.

The Demons defense kept the momentum on its side by forcing the Bearkats to go three-and-out on their first offensive possession. NSU would stand tall again on the second Bearkats drive, when a tipped pass hung in the air long enough for senior linebacker Peyton Guidry to intercept the pass.  The Demons would capitalize immediately with a 29-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Clay Holgorsen to senior wide receiver Bobby Chan-Chan to make the score 10-0 with 9:21 left in the first quarter.

Down by 10 points early, the Bearkats responded by going 82 yards on 10 plays thanks in large part to three catches by sophomore wide receiver Nathan Stewart, including a 27-yard completion that got them to the goal line.  One play later senior tight end Ragan Henderson ran the ball in from the one yard line to close the gap to 10-7.  The Demons stole the momentum right back from the Kats at the end of the first quarter, however, as Holgorsen found senior wide receiver Bryson Borque from four yards out to give the Demons a 17-7 lead at the end of the first.

To start the second, the Bearkats went right down the field and were at the goal line once again thanks to a 51-yard catch and run by Stewart.  Disaster struck on the next play, though, when Henderson fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Demons at the four-yard line.

The Bearkats offense eventually got back into Demon territory only to be stopped on fourth down at the 24-yard line.  The Demons took advantage quickly with a 62-yard run by sophomore running back Jared West that put them in the red zone.  On the next play, NSU broke out some trickery when Chan-Chan threw a touchdown pass to senior tight end Morgan Lucas to make it 24-7.

The Bearkats responded on the ensuing drive with a five-play, 64-yard drive, that ended in a 25-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe to junior wide receiver Davion Davis to make it 24-14.  That reception would be the start of a huge night for Davis offensively.

That trick play seemed to wake up the Bearkats as the defense came up with a three-and-out to give the ball back to the offense.  The ensuing drive was punctuated once again by a Briscoe to Davis connection, this time from seven yards out to make the game 24-21.  The Demons added a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make the score 27-21 going into halftime.

The Demons came out in the second half and took control right away with a 90-yard touchdown run by senior running back Chris Jones to extend their lead to 33-21.  The Bearkats answered later in the quarter when Briscoe found Davis for his third touchdown of the day from 11 yards out to make the score 33-28.  The Demons kicked a 44-yard field goal with 1:08 left in the third quarter to make it 36-28, and that was the score going into the fourth quarter.

After the defenses went back and forth with consecutive stops to start the quarter, Briscoe found Davis for a 70-yard catch and run touchdown. That score would be Davis’ fourth touchdown of the day.  The Bearkats could not convert the two-point conversion, so they still trailed 36-34 with 8:11 left in the game.

The Demons attempted to run out the clock on the next drive and not give the Bearkat offense another chance with the ball.  After converting a fourth and one in Bearkat territory it looked like their plan was going to work out.  That was when the Bearkat defense stepped up and got a stop forcing a Demon punt with 2:16 left, and the Bearkats took over at their own four-yard line.

After an offsides penalty by NSU got the Bearkats out of the shadow of their own endzone, a 13-yard run by senior running back Corey Avery got the Bearkats going in the right direction.  The next play was yet another big play by Stewart, who made a 64-yard catch down the sideline to get into the red zone.  Three runs by Avery got the Bearkats down to the one yard line before he punched it in to give SHSU a 40-36 edge with 1:04 left to play.

“I told our guys before we went on that drive that this was going to be a statement drive,” Briscoe said. “That this is where you define whether you are good or whether you are great.”

With just over one minute left, the Bearkats defense needed to step up one last time.  They would be up to the task as they forced four consecutive incompletions, and SHSU held on to the four-point victory.

“You need to win a ballgame like this at some time during the season,” Keeler said. “To just believe that no matter what’s going to happen you are going to find a way to win.”

This was the first time since Oct. 31, 2009 that the Bearkats won a conference game in which they trailed entering the fourth quarter. That game was also against Northwestern State.  It was also a special night for Briscoe as he set a career high with 509 passing yards.

Up next, the Bearkats will welcome home alumni for their annual Homecoming game. The Kats will host the Lamar Cardinals at Bowers Stadium with a 3 p.m. kickoff time.