Kats claim 10th straight Battle of the Piney Woods
HOUSTON – The top-ranked Sam Houston Bearkats trailed nearly the entire way, but scored 15 unanswered points in the final nine minutes of the game to take down upstart Stephen F. Austin, 21-20, in the 95th edition of the Battle of the Piney Woods.
The Kats (4-0, 1-0 WAC) went into the game without all-America quarterback Eric Schmid, but Keegan Shoemaker filled the void well, especially in the game’s final minutes to extend the Kats’ win streak in the series to 10 in a row.
Shoemaker finished 16-for-29 passing for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it was Trapper Pannell who got the go-ahead score, running it in from four yards out with 2:37 to go to erase what was once a 20-6 deficit entering the fourth quarter.
SFA (3-2, 1-1 WAC) had one final shot to pull out the win, but kicker Chris Campos was wide right on a 51-yard field goal try in the game’s final minute.
Defensively, the Bearkat defensive front was a menace to the SFA offense throughout the day, finishing with three sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and seven hurries while holding the Jacks to just 311 total yards of offense.
Markel Perry led the Kats with a career-high 10 tackles, including 3.0 tackles for loss, while Jahari Kay spent the afternoon in the backfield as well, finishing with 2.5 TFLs of his own as part of eight total tackles.
On offense, Jequez Ezzard finished with 74 yards receiving and a score, while Ife Adeyi hauled in a touchdown of his own, a 26-yard effort on fourth down in the fourth quarter that kept the Kats in striking distance.
The Jacks got out to an early lead in the opening quarter, connecting on a 49-yard field goal by Chris Campos on their first drive before going up 10-0 just before the end of the quarter on a 15-yard pass from Trae Self to Gipson.
Sam Houston moved the ball on offense, but came up empty on a pair of fourth downs in SFA territory.
SFA added another field goal from Campos early in the second quarter to up the lead to 13-0 before the Kats were able to finally put together a complete drive, going 77 yards on nine plays to make it a 13-6 game with 1:32 left in the half.
Shoemaker was 6-for-7 passing on the drive, finishing it off with a 5-yard pass to Ezzard in the left flat.
The teams traded possessions in the third quarter before SFA got to work on its second possession, starting at its own 8-yard line before marching into the red zone on the strength of a pair of third-down conversions and a key penalty against the Kats; however, the drive came to a quick halt when Zyon McCollum picked off Self at the SHSU 11-yard line.
But the Kats were their own worst enemy on the ensuing drive as a botched shotgun snap set the Jacks up in prime position, and Self found Lawton Rikell on a bubble screen one play later to put SFA up 20-6.
That score could have put the game away, but Shoemaker and the Kats were not done as they mounted a 97-yard drive to get back in it. Completions to Ezzard and Harvin set the Kats up, but it still came down to a fourth-down play where Shoemaker rolled right and found Adeyi from 26 yards out in the end zone.
The 2-point conversion made it a 20-14 game, and the Bearkat defense responded with another crucial stop, getting the ball back once again at the SFA 38 after a solid return from Ezzard.
Sam Houston then went to work again, but found itself in trouble with a 4th-and-4 play at the Lumberjack 8-yard line. The Jacks were in position for the stop, but defensive lineman BJ Thompson was flagged for a facemask penalty on the play to extend the drive, and one play later Pannell powered his way across the goal line.
The point after by Christian Pavon put the Kats in front, but Self completed a pair of passes to Gipson to give the Jacks a chance with Campos’ kick at the end.
The Kats will now return home to host Lamar on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. at Bowers Stadium and will be aired on ESPN+.
NOTES - The 21-20 decision was the eighth 1-point game in the history of the series, and first since 1981
- Keegan Shoemaker made the first start of his Bearkat career at quarterback
- When SFA took a 3-0 lead, it marked the first time this season the Kats have trailed at any point of a game
-Zyon McCollum’s interception in the third quarter was the first of the season and the 11thfor his career, tying him with Bobby Coleman for the fifth-most career interceptions in Bearkat history