Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington meet Saturday in the "FCS Kickoff" in Cheney, Washington, the only college game of the day and the first of the 2014 season.
Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore and Jessica Mendoza will be the announce crew for the ESPN national telecast of the SHSU-EWU FCS Kickoff Game.
Kooter Roberson, Leroy Wilkinson and Jason Barfield will call the game locally on KSAM 101.7 FM. The broadcast also will be streamed live on the internet at www.gobearkats.com .
The contest represents the earliest start date in the Bearkats’ football history. Sam Houston opened the 2008 season on August 28 with a 58-14 victory over East Central Oklahoma in Huntsville. The Kats have started seasons with August games six times, the first in 1986 in the Astrodome against the Houston Cougars.
SHSU & EWU MEET AS RANKED FOES AGAIN
For the fourth time in the two program’s football histories, Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington meet as nationally ranked opponents. Eastern Washington stands atop The Sports Network preseason FCS poll and is No. 2 in the NCAA Coaches’ Poll. The Bearkats are rated No. 14 by the coaches and 17 by the Sports Network.
The previous three series results with the team’s national rankings have been
2004 -- #9 SHSU 35 #14 EWU 34 - Cheney - NCAA Quarterfinals
2012 -- #5 SHSU 45 #4 EWU 42 - Cheney - NCAA Semifinals
2013 -- #4 SHSU 49 #2 EWU 34 - Huntsville - Regular Season
Eastern Washington ranked No. 3 in last year’s FCS final polls after reaching the NCAA semifinals while Sam Houston was No. 13, falling in the second round of the playoffs.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PARTICIPANTS
Three of the last four years, either Sam Houston or Eastern Washington has been a participant in the NCAA Division I Championship Finals in Frisco, Texas. EWU won the national championship in 2011 while Sam Houston was a finalist in both 2012 and 2013. The Southland Conference has hosted the National Championship Game each of the past four seasons.
BEARKATS & EAGLES IN THE FCS PLAYOFFS
Sam Houston is one of only three teams to earn FCS post-season playoff berths each of the past three seasons (joining North Dakota State and New Hampshire). Eastern Washington has earned FCS berths four of the past five years (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013). The two teams have combined for 17 FCS playoff appearances.
K. C. KEELER DEBUTS AS SAM HOUSTON’S 15TH HEAD FOOTBALL COACH
K. C. Keeler brings a 20-year record of 174 victories, 73 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.
HEAD COACH SEES PLAYING CLEAN AS KEY TO BEARKAT SUCCESS IN 2014When K. C. Keeler came to Sam Houston State as the university’s 15th head football coach last January, he was certain about one thing. "With this program’s record of success during the last three years, our coaching staff has inherited a group of outstanding young men who know what it takes to win at this level," Keeler said. "During spring ball and preseason camp, it has been exciting to see the way everyone has bought into what we are trying 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 there’s an old term 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."
QUARTERBACK SEARCH HAS BEEN FOCUS ON OFFENSE IN PRESEASON
The search for the successor to Brian Bell, Sam Houston’s all-time winningest quarterback, has been a major focus during spring and summer work. Bell was 39-11 as a starter from 2010 to 2013, setting SHSU career records with 8,655 yards passing and 10,184 rushing
Sophomore Jared Johnson has been named as the Bearkats' starter for the EWU game. Sophomore Don King III and redshirt freshman John Rodrique are the backups
OTHER KEY FIGURES IN BEARKAT OFFENSE
Senior running back Keshawn Hill, a preseason All-Southland selection, returns to lead the running attack. Hill has totaled 2,312 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns in three years as a Bearkat. Hill has played as the back-up to All-America Timothy Flanders the past two seasons. Flanders was a three-time Walter Payton Award finalist and the Southland Conference’s all-time rushing (5,664 yards) and scoring (420 points). He signed with the Saints last spring.
Redshirt freshman De’Chaar Greer was the team’s top rusher in spring ball.
Wide receivers Chance Nelson, Stephen Williams, Gerald Thomas, Ricky Smith and Shyon Motlagh all are back. Nelson is a deep threat with 57 catches for 978 yards and 12 touchdowns the past two years.
Tight ends Shane Young and Regan Henderson can be factors in both the running and passing games with their size and mobility. Young holds a spot on the 2014 preseason All-Southland Conference squad this fall.
Donald Jackson III, John Trotter, Zachary Stevens and Brandon DeWitt – all starters in the offensive line last year – return. Young and Jackson are preseason All-Southland selections. DeWitt was a freshman All-America selection in 2013.
"With the pace we’d like to play offensively, we’ll be rotating our running backs and wide receivers," Keeler said. "Early on, it will be more important that we play without mistakes, but there’s going to be lots of opportunities for young players to step in as we progress offensively."
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. Sophomores Jacorey Washington, Luis Carreno and Steve York all could play important roles in the defensive line as well.
Junior Tristan Eche and sophomore Myke Chatman saw action at linebacker last year and transfers Kiel Heidman and Lance Duran have joined the Bearkats to help at that position as well. Returning lettermen Darion Flowers, Tevin Creeks, Cory Hamlett and Andre Moseley plus transfer Trenier Orr look to be in the mix in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS CAN BE A BEARKAT STRENGTH THIS FALL
Special teams should remain a Bearkat strength with preseason All-Southland kicker Luc Swimberghe and punters Lachlan Edwards and Brad Dunavant all returning. Swimberghe was the team’s leading scorer with 97 points last year. Edwards and Dunavant shared punting duties, each averaging more than 40 yards per kick. Trent Williams returns 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 includes 44 returning lettermen, 12 red-shirt freshmen and five players who are either red-shirt sophomores or juniors. The remaining 34 players are newcomers. Fourteen are true freshmen, seven are junior college transfers and 13 are transfers from four-year football programs.
EXPECT OFFENSIVE FIREWORKS WHEN BEARKATS MEET THE EAGLES
In Sam Houston’s three games with Eastern Washington, the two teams have combined for 239 points and 2,604 yards total offense, averages of 79.7 points and 868 yards per game.
The Bearkats trailed 34-14 with 14:54 to play in the pair’s first meeting in the quarterfinals of the 2004 FCS playoffs in Cheney. Sam Houston scored on the game’s final play and kicked the extra point for a 35-34 win with 0:00 on the clock.
Sam Houston jumped out to a 35-0 lead at intermission in the 2012 semifinal game only to see EWU rally in the second half to cut the Kats’ margin in the final quarter to 35-28 (13:08 remaining) and 42-35 (9:48 to play). Up by a field goal after another Eagle touchdown, SHSU was able to run out the final 3:05 of the game to advance to the national championship.
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.
SAM HOUSTON IN SEASON OPENERS
Sam Houston State owns a 54-40-4 record in opening games throughout its previous 98 seasons of intercollegiate football. The Bearkats have won 13 of their last 16 season debuts and own a 19-9 record in opening games since moving up to the FCS level in 1986.
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.
SAM HOUSTON STATE VERSUS THE BIG SKY CONFERENCE
Sam Houston now stands 13-8 against teams currently in the Big Sky Conference after their opening round playoff victory over Southern Utah last year. The Kats posted victories over the Big Sky’s co-champions in 2011 (Montana and Montana State), the league’s tri-champions in 2012 (Cal Poly, Montana State and Eastern Washington) and 2013 champion EWU last fall.