HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Sam Houston State puts the longest current FCS home winning streak on the line Saturday at 6:30 p.m. when the Bearkats play host to Alabama State at Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.
The Kats kicked off their 99th season of football last week on ESPN national television at Cheney, Washington with a 56-35 loss to No. 1 Eastern Washington.
The matchup with the Hornets Saturday is "Orange Out 2014." Special orange t-shirts are on sale at Barefoot Athletics and Barnes & Noble. Game sponsors are Suddenlink and KSAM.
Sam Houston is 24-4 in home openers since moving its football home from Joseph Pritchett Field to Bowers Stadium in 1986. The Kats have won each of their last four home openers.
Overall in 28 seasons at Bowers Stadium, Sam Houston has rolled up a record of 110 victories, 42 losses and one tie. The Bearkats have gone unbeaten at home nine times.
FCS’S LONGEST CURRENT HOME WINNING STREAK
The Kats own a 22-game home winning streak at Bowers Stadium, the longest in school history and, currently, in the FCS. The streak started with a win over Texas State after losing to McNeese in 2010. Sam Houston’s streak stands as the 12th longest in FCS history. Georgia Southern holds the record with 39 consecutive home wins from 1997 to 2001.
Bowers Stadium opened in 1986. The Bearkats won their first 13 games in the facility and now hold a 102-42-1 record at Bowers. Sam Houston has posted unbeaten seasons at home in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 2001, 2004, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
HOME DEBUT FOR SAM HOUSTON’S 15TH HEAD FOOTBALL COACH
K. C. Keeler brings a 20-year record of 174 victories, 74 losses and one tie to Sam Houston as he takes over the Bearkat football program. Keeler’s teams have made 13 NCAA tournament appearances and eight trips to national championship games. His 2003 Delaware squad won the FCS national championship.
During his 11 seasons as head coach at Delaware, the Blue Hens reached the FCS National Championship Game in 2003, 2007 and 2010. His squads compiled an 86-52 record, winning league titles in 2003, 2004 and 2010 and compiling an 11-3 record in playoff competition.
As head coach at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, Keeler produced an 88-21-1 record from 1993 to 2001 that included seven NCAA Division III playoff appearances and five trips to the National Championship game.
FIRST MEETING BETWEEN SAM HOUSTON AND ALABAMA STATE
Alabama State and Sam Houston are meeting on the gridiron for the first time in the two program’s history. The Hornets from Montgomery, Alabama, are members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
Head coach Reggie Barlow directed Alabama State to an 8-4 record and a runner-up finish in the SWAC East Division in 2013. With 16 returning starters, ASU is one of the favorites in this year’s league race. The Hornets feature a balanced offense that averaged 31.2 points per game last season.
Sam Houston owns a 15-7 record against teams from the SWAC. The Bearkats are 10-5 versus Texas Southern, 2-0 against Mississippi Valley State, 3-1 with Alcorn State and 0-1 versus Prairie View.
PENALTIES, TWO TURNOVERS DERAIL BEARKAT UPSET ATTEMPT
Leading twice, tied 21-21 at half and down by only seven with 5:14 remaining against No. 1 ranked Eastern Washington Saturday, the No. 14 rated Bearkats saw their upset hopes fade in the final minutes of a 56-35 loss on ESPN national television Saturday in Cheney, Washington.
As expected, the contest featured plenty of offensive fireworks as the two teams combined for 91 points and 1,166 yards total offense. The Kats hurt their cause with 16 penalties for 159 yards and a pair of turnovers.
All-America quarterback Vernon Adams lived up to his billing as the favorite to win the 2014 Walter Payton Award. Adams passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns. The Eagles ended the day with 100 plays for 624 total yards.
There were many positives for the Bearkats. Sam Houston totaled 542 yards on 85 plays. Quarterback Jared Johnson showed promise in his second career start, accounting for 367 yards total offense. The sophomore completed 31 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 53-yard scoring run on an option play.
Senior running back Keshawn Hill was the leading rusher for the Bearkats with 17 carries for 133 yards including a 79-yard touchdown for the Kats’ first score. Wide receiver Yedidiah Louis caught 10 passes for 89 yards.
Defensively, cornerback Trenier Orr gave Sam Houston a 14-7 lead with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. Linebackers Tristan Eche and Myke Chatman and linemen Gary Lorance, P. J. Hall and Dwight Jackson combined to post four quarterback sacks.
Eche led the defense with 13 tackles while Chatman added 11 stops. Safety Michael Wade totaled 10 tackles.
The victory was the Eagles’ first in four contests against Sam Houston in the past decade. The Kats brought a 3-0 record against EWU into the contest. Both teams came into each of the four meetings nationally ranked.
HEAD COACH SEES PLAYING CLEAN AS KEY TO BEARKAT SUCCESS IN 2014
Throughout 2014 preseason camp, head coach K. C. Keeler has spoken about the importance of the Bearkats playing without mistakes. Saturday’s loss at Eastern Washington showed how badly miscues and penalties can hurt the team’s chances of success.
"We were disappointed in the mistakes," Keeler said. "If we play clean, we have a real chance to win the ball game. We’re a better football team than that. We have a lot of work to do."
During the past three years, Sam Houston State has compiled a 34-10 record and won two Southland Conference titles. With the graduation of several key players, only seven starters return from the 2013 squad that earned SHSU its third consecutive FCS playoff berth.
Keeler sees many positives about the 2014 Bearkats. Forty-six lettermen who saw action in reserve roles last year plus an exciting group of freshmen and transfer are ready to pick up where the departed stars left off.
"Yes, this team will look different from past groups," Keeler said. "We’ve thrown a lot of new things at the players during the spring and preseason camp. But I’ve told the kids, if we play clean, we win. We have enough talent here that if we play clean, we’ll win a lot of football games. That’s going to be the challenge."
KEY FIGURES IN BEARKAT OFFENSE
Senior running back Keshawn Hill, a preseason All-Southland selection, returns to lead the running attack. Hill has totaled 2,345 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns in his Bearkat career. He has played as the back-up to All-America Timothy Flanders the past two seasons.
Jared Johnson earned the starting role at quarterback during preseason camp. The South Grand Prairie product was the back-up to All-Southland Conference Brian Bell last year. Bell finished his career as Sam Houston’s all-time passing and total offense leader in 2013.
Tight ends Shane Young caught three passes at EWU including one for a touchdown. Young and the Kats’ other tight ends can be factors in both the running and passing games with their size and mobility. Donald Jackson III, Zachary Stevens and Brandon DeWitt all were starters in the offensive line last year.
Young and Jackson both are preseason All-Southland selections. DeWitt was a freshman All-America selection in 2013.
THE BEARKAT DEFENSE
Only three starters return on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. However 19 players who played in reserve roles plus several top newcomers are ready to step in for the Bearkats.
Safety Michael Wade is a preseason All-Southland selection after an outstanding junior season. Wade is the team’s top returning tackler with 105 stops and two interceptions last year.
The other two returning starters are senior safety Desmond Fite and defensive tackle Sione Latu. Fite totaled 63 tackles in 2013. Latu posted 30 stops including five tackles for losses.
Gary Lorance, a 6-0, 285-pound defensive tackle who anchored the line for the 2011 and 2012 championship teams, returns after missing last season with an injury. He earned All-Southland honors as a sophomore and junior and is a 2014 preseason second team selection.
Mouf Adebo, a sophomore defensive end, earned freshman All-America mention last year. He led the Kats in tackles for losses with 11. Junior Tristan Eche and sophomore Myke Chatman saw action at linebacker last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS CAN BE A BEARKAT STRENGTH THIS FALL
Special teams should remain a Bearkat strength in 2014. All-Southland kicker Luc Swimberghe and punter Lachlan Edwards both return. Swimberghe was the team’s leading scorer with 97 points last year. Edwards averaged more than 40 yards per kick. Trent Williams returning as Sam Houston’s deep snaps specialist.
PLENTY OF NEW FACES ON THE 2014 BEARKAT FOOTBALL SQUAD
Sixty-one of the members of the 95-player roster for Sam Houston preseason camp were returning players from the 2013 playoff squad. That number included 44 returning lettermen, 12 red-shirt freshmen and five squadmen.
Eighteen transfers have brought immediate help in 2014. Thirteen of the transfers come from FBS programs while five are from junior colleges. Sam Houston signed 13 high school seniors in February who join this year’s squad as true freshmen.
Saturday at Eastern Washington, LaDarius Brown, a wide receiver from TCU, caught three passes for 45 yards. Kiante’ Griffin from Baylor had two catches for 14 yards and running back Jalen Overstreet from Texas had one catch for 10 yards. Cornerback Trenier Orr from Cincinnati handled punt return duties and returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown.
SOUTHLAND HEAD COACHES TAB SAM HOUSTON TO FINISH THIRD IN TITLE RACE
Defending champion Southeastern Louisiana has been tabbed as the favorite to win the 2014 Southland Conference football title while McNeese State and Sam Houston are picked second and third, respectively, according to this year’s prediction poll of the league’s head coaches.
The Lions, Cowboys and Bearkats all earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths last year. Following the trio in the coaches’ poll are Central Arkansas and Northwestern State in fourth and fifth place and Stephen F. Austin and Lamar tied for sixth. Abilene Christian, Nicholls, Incarnate Word and Houston Baptist round out the field.
SIX BEARKATS NAMED TO PRESEASON ALL-SOUTHLAND TEAM
Senior safety Michael Wade, junior offensive lineman Donald Jackson III and sophomore kicking specialist Luc Swimberghe were voted as first team selections on the 2014 Preseason All-Southland Conference squad.
Running back Keshawn Hill, defensive lineman Gary Lorance and tight end Shane Young (all seniors) were voted to the second team.
Jackson was a first team All-Southland honoree last year and has been voted to three pre-season All-America squads this summer. Wade is Sam Houston’s top returning tackler with 105 stops last year. Swimberge was the team’s leading scorer with 97 points in 2013.
Hill is a member of two SHSU 1,000-yard clubs with 1,396 career rushing yards and 2,312 all-purpose yards the past three years. Young earned honorable mention All-Southland tight end honors in 2013. He caught a crucial touchdown pass late in the 2012 playoff game at EWU to help Sam Houston preserve the win. Lorance is a two-time All-Southland defensive lineman who returns after missing last season with an injury suffered in the season opener.
BEARKATS IN THE NATIONAL FCS RANKINGS
Sam Houston’s preseason rankings of No. 14 in the NCAA Coaches Poll and No. 17 in The Sports Network standings mark the 39th consecutive poll for the Bearkats to be in the FCS Top 25. After a three-year drought, SHSU cracked the Top 25 again on Sept. 9, 2011 and have held a spot in the poll ever since, rising as high as No. 1 at the end of an 11-0 2011 regular season.