While an upset loss by Incarnate Word last week might’ve wrapped up an outright Southland Conference title for Sam Houston, the Bearkats still have a few more objectives in their sights.
The first comes this Saturday in San Antonio. The next, a few weeks later in Frisco.
Sam Houston (5-0) will look to close out its first undefeated regular season since 2016 this weekend at UIW. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
In addition to fighting to keep their perfect record alive, the Bearkats have a chance to bolster their case for a top-four seed in the FCS playoffs with a win on Saturday. They are No. 5 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 and were a No. 4 seed in the championship committee’s midseason rankings, which were released on April 1.
“I don't think winning the conference championship has been a distraction at all, because our guys know what's on the line,” Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler said. “They are a very well-coached team and we have a lot of respect for them. I was very happy when Northwestern kicked that field goal ... but game day, the same pressure is going to be there because you're trying to be a top-two or three seed.”
PLAYING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP
When Sam Houston announced its intentions to not play any fall games and focus solely on the spring season, one topic continued to rise to the forefront: championships.
The Bearkats locked up their first possible championship last week, but the pursuit of the school’s first national title remains a constant source of motivation — as it has since last August.
“Sam Houston was not going to play money games ... and I thought that was a good moral lesson for our players. That’s not who we want to be,” Keeler said. “We want to find where the championship is. If the championship is in the spring, we're going to play in the spring. I think that set a tone for our team. There's a national championship. You can win a national championship, so I don't care when we're doing this. I think I got the guys all excited about that, and we've very focused about trying to win a national championship. It starts with winning the conference championship first, and then moving on into the playoffs.”
While the Bearkats’ focus has turned toward their regular-season finale and the playoffs, however, they made sure to savor the moment of hoisting the Southland Conference trophy after back-to-back missed playoff appearances.
“It felt amazing,” redshirt junior Markel Perry said. “It's something we've been working on for the longest. It's about to be four years now, and it's been four years in the making. Seeing all your hard work paying off really does something to you. It's just an amazing feeling.
“Me and my teammates have been through so much, and to see it pay off like this — not only did we win the conference championship, but we're 5-0 right now — all of our hard work and dedication is really showing out right now.”
SCHMID FOR WALTER PAYTON?
With votes due soon for postseason awards and all-American teams, Sam Houston has made a case to bring home several national accolades this year. This includes the Walter Payton Award, which honors the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS, for which junior quarterback Eric Schmid is one of the leading candidates.
As the centerpiece of an offense that ranks in the top-five in the country in total and scoring offense, Schmid has racked up 1,862 total yards with 17 touchdowns in five games. The signal-caller showcased his dual-threat abilities during back-to-back 50-plus-point wins over Nicholls and Lamar, passing for eight touchdowns and rushing for four more in a little over six quarters of action. He also leads the country in passing efficiency among quarterbacks that have started more than three games.
Adding a boost to Schmid’s resume is his status as a leader of arguably the best team in the country and a potential national seed.
“I think we have the best team in the country. We're in the top 2-3 in scoring, and he's way up there in terms of pass efficiency and all those things ... and he stirs the drink,” Keeler said. “Don't just look at his passing numbers, look at his rushing numbers too. He's that dual-threat guy that really drives you crazy. Not only does he extend plays, but he's getting a lot of first downs and touchdowns with his feet. He's had an incredible year.”
“That kid is amazing,” sophomore running back Noah Smith added about his quarterback. “The way he practices, the way he carries himself ... he does it every day. He just continues to work. He's definitely one of the leaders of this team, I'm proud that he's my quarterback.”
Incarnate Word has posed problems for opposing defenses all spring, sitting No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in total and scoring offense. Freshman quarterback Cameron Ward appears to be running away with the Jerry Rice Award, as he currently leads the FCS with 391 passing yards per game and 146 points responsible for. Senior running back Kevin Brown has been a constant threat as well, ranking second in the country in rushing yards per game (142.2) while leading the FCS with 10.94 yards per carry.
The Cardinals have struggled defensively, giving up 41.8 points per game, but part of that can be attributed to their fast-paced style offensively.
“They have a great tail back,” Keeler said. “This guy is special. If you give him a seam, all of a sudden you're looking at the back of his jersey. They have the great quarterback, a really good tailback and their receivers are good players, but their offensive line doesn't get enough credit. As a unit, they play really well together ... and they play to their quarterback's strengths.”