HOUSTON — It didn't come without drama, but the Sam Houston State Bearkats weren't going to be kept from extending their record Battle of the Piney Woods win streak.
Sam Houston State notched its ninth straight win over rival Stephen F. Austin on Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston, turning a late three-point deficit into a 31-20 victory. For receiver Nathan Stewart and a handful of other seniors, the win ensured that they will finish their careers with a perfect record against the Lumberjacks.
“There’s no point to win three games and then lose the last one our senior year,” Stewart said. “We had to come out with the win."
SFA took a 20-17 lead with 10:36 remaining, when Eli Jones returned a Ty Brock interception 28 yards for a touchdown. The sophomore quarterback made the Lumberjacks pay moments later, however, as he hit Stewart for a 45-yard score to put the Kats back on top for good.
Senior linebacker Royce See recovered a strip sack by junior defensive lineman Joe Wallace deep in SFA territory on the next possession. Sophomore running back Donovan Williams scored his second rushing touchdown from 10 yards out three plays later to extend the SHSU lead to 31-20.
“I got the defensive line together and said, ‘It’s on you. This game is on you. If we don’t get pressure, they will beat us,’” Sam Houston State head coach K.C. Keeler said. “Joe went out and forced that fumble right there. That’s a group that has a lot of pride.”
See, who also had nine tackles and a forced fumble, pulled down his second interception on the next drive to put the game away.
“Being out there with the guys for one last ride ... they gave me all they had, and I gave them all I had,” See said. “It was one to remember for sure.”
The Sam Houston State defense lived in the backfield seemingly all game long, recording 15 tackles for loss, including five sacks. The Bearkats also had six takeaways, with junior K.J. Gray recording his first career interception and seniors Hunter Brown and Tucker Addington each recovering a fumble.
SECOND QUARTER SWING
Stephen F. Austin had full control of momentum early on, holding Sam Houston State to just nine yards in the first quarter and building a 10-0 lead by the 11:51 mark of the second. The Bearkats flipped the script, however, out-gaining SFA 161-24 the rest of the half to take a 14-0 lead into the break. Sam Houston State pulled ahead on some true freshman-to-true freshman trickery, as Noah Smith hit Ife Adeyi for a 32-yard score on a double-pass.
CARRYING THE LOAD
The Bearkats used a running back-by-committee approach through their first five games of 2019, but that wasn’t the case down the stretch Saturday.
With just two rushing yards as a team through two quarters, Sam Houston State leaned heavily on Williams during the second half — and the decision paid off. Williams finished the game with 127 rushing yards, including 120 on 22 second-half carries, in addition to his two touchdowns.
Stewart is already the Southland Conference’s all-time leader in career receiving yards, and he inched closer toward even more history after hauling in six catches for 134 yards and a touchdown. The Dallas native now sits just four scores away from former teammate Davion Davis’ Southland record of 40 touchdown receptions, and is 414 yards away from becoming the third FCS receiver to record four 1,000-yard seasons.