Bearkats take on Western Kentucky looking for 3rd straight win

Sam Houston State Football
Sam Houston State Football(KBTX)
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 2:39 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The Sam Houston Bearkat football team will hit the road for the final time in 2023 on Saturday when it heads to Bowling Green, Ky., for a Saturday matinee a WKU.

It will be only the second meeting ever between the Bearkats and Hilltoppers and Sam Houston’s first-ever trip to Bowling Green.

Kickoff of Saturday’s contest is set for 2:30 p.m. at Houchens-Smith Stadium. It will be aired on ESPN+ with Jeff Hem and Terry Obee on the call. The game can be heard online on the Bearkat Sports Network and on the Bearkat Athletics app with Jason Barfield and Brian Adams on the call from the radio booth.

GETTING STARTED - Sam Houston is in its first year of transition to the FBS. The Kats officially became a member of Conference USA on July 1, 2023

- The Kats have won two games in a row after going on the road and snagging a wire-to-wire win over Louisiana Tech last week. It was the Kats’ first win over an FBS opponent since 2011 when it knocked off New Mexico in Albuquerque on their way to a 14-1 season and a berth in the first of 3 FCS Championship Games

- Linebacker Kavian Gaither was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for the first time this season after totaling 12 tackles, a forced fumble and a pick-6 against Louisiana Tech

- It was the second straight week for the Kats to snag a weekly honor from CUSA after Da’Marcus Crosby (defensive) and Colby Sessums (special teams) got the honor after the win over Kennesaw State

- Despite being winless in its first 8 tries of 2023, the Kats either led or were within 1 score of its opponent in the fourth quarter in 6 of its 8 games before taking down Kennesaw State


Sam Houston 54, WKU 24 Bowers Stadium - Huntsville - 11/24/2004 Dustin Long passed for 327 yards and five touchdowns as Sam Houston downed No. 3 WKU in the first round of the NCAA 1-AA playoffs. Two first-quarter blocks were key and the Bearkat defense limited one of the nation’s top running attacks to just 102 net rushing yards.

The win was the final win at Bowers Stadium for then head coach Ron Randleman, who retired following the conclusion of the season after the Bearkats were eliminated in the semifinals of the playoffs at Montana. Randleman is still the all-time winningest coach at Sam Houston, retiring with 219 career victories.

LEFTOVERS FROM A 42-27 WIN OVER LOUISIANA TECH - The win was the first over an FBS program for SHSU since defeating New Mexico in Albuquerque in 2011

- Sam Houston had just 8 takeaways on the season entering the game in Ruston, but the Kats finished with 4 takeaways (2 fumbles, 2 INT). It is the first time the Kats have had 4+ takeaways in a game without a turnover since having 5 takeaways against Central Arkansas without a turnover in the 2016 regular-season finale

- Adrian Murdaugh opened the game with a spark, bursting forth for a 52-yard touchdown run on the Kats’ first drive of the game. He had just 47 rushing yards on 11 carries on the year prior to that run, one which was the longest rush by a Bearkat this year

- Defensive lineman Issiah Nixon stepped in and punched in a pair of touchdowns, the first of his career. The Kats have now had five players rush for touchdowns in 2023, 3 of which are not listed as running backs

- Noah Smith finished with 115 receiving yards on 6 catches. That effort pushed him over 2,500 all-purpose yards for his Bearkat career

- Smith’s effort was also a career high and just the second game of his career with 100+ yards receiving. The last coming when he hauled in 10 grabs for 103 yards against North Dakota State in the quartefinals of the 2020 FCS Playoffs

- Jax Sherrard got the start at tight end and finished with six grabs for 102 yards and a score, the first of his Bearkat career

- It was the first time since Ife Adeyi and Jequez Ezzard went over 100 yards receiving vs Eastern Kentucky in 2021 that SHSU had a pair of 100-yard receivers in a game

QUICK HITTERS KC Keeler is now up to 261 victories in his career, spanning stops at Sam Houston, Delaware and Rowan. His win total has him into a tie for 24th all-time in career victories among head coaches. Below is a ranking of where Keeler ranks among active coaches with only Nick Saban, Mack Brown and Brian Kelly having more career wins among FBS coaches

Coach Wins Total Seasons Current School Previous Schools

Kevin Donley      348         45                           St. Francis (IN)   California (PA), Georgetown (KY), Anderson (IN)

Nick Saban          289         28                           Alabama               LSU, Michigan State, Toledo

Mack Brown       282         35                           North Carolina   Texas, Tulane, Appalachian State

Brian Kelly           280         33                           LSU                         Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Central Michigan, Grand Valley

KC Keeler             261         30                           Sam Houston     Delaware, Rowan

With the Bearkats having to dig deep into its stable of available backs, linebacker Issiah Nixon stepped in on Saturday at LA Tech and served as a short-yardage back and found the end zone twice. But his impact was not only felt on that side of the ball as he got in on a sack in the second quarter as well. Until last week no player in the country had picked up a sack and scored an offensive TD in the same game, but it happened twice on Saturday as Nixon accomplished the feat in addition to Utah’s Sione Vaki who had a sack and a receiving TD vs Washington

FBS Players in 2023 with Sacks + Offensive TD(s) scored

Player School Rush TD Rec TD Sacks

Issiah Nixon                        Sam Houston     2                              0              4.0

Sione Vaki                           Utah                      3                              2              2.0

DJ Lundy                              Florida State       1                              0              1.5

Tonka Hemmingway       South Carolina   1                              0              1.5

Alex Huntley                       South Carolina   0                              1              2.0

MORE BEARKAT BYTES - Trevor Williams is the first Kat with 100 tackles in a season since Justin Johnson had 117 in 2017

- The Bearkats had struggled to get chunk yardage on offense all season with only 6 plays from scrimmage of 30+ yards entering Saturday at Louisiana Tech; however, Sam Houston had 3 plays of better than 30 yards against the Bulldogs

- The Kats are 1 of 10 teams in the nation to have played in multiple OT games in 2023. The other schools include Arkron, Arizona, Clemson, Colorado, Houston, North Carolina, Charlotte, Indiana and Miami (FL).  This year marks the first time the Kats have played in multiple OT games in a single season since 2008 when they went 2-1 in 3 total OT games vs Stephen F. Austin (W), Southeastern Louisiana (L) and Texas State (L)

- Noah Smith has been a Swiss army knife for the Kats throughout his career and the numbers are adding up. In fact, the redshirt junior needs just 93 more rushing yards to his career tally to join Richard Sincere as the only Kats with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a career

- Smith has been Keegan Shoemaker’s favorite target this year and has averaged a league-high 8.8 receptions per game in CUSA play. He also ranks fifth with 87.2 receiving yards and fourth with 101.7 all-purpose yards per game

- The Kats tied the game up with Kennesaw State on the strength of a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 9:24 of the fourth quarter. It was the longest drive, timewise, for Sam Houston in the Keeler era. The last time the Kats had a scoring drive of 9+ minutes came on October 26, 2013, when they marched 60 yards on 16 plays - all rushes - in 9:25 to paydirt vs Northwestern State

- Bearkat QB Keegan Shoemaker has shown a propensity for the dramatic in his career and the game vs KSU lived up to that. The win over the Owls was the fourth time in Shoemaker’s Bearkat career he has led SHSU to a win after trailing in the fourth quarter. The others include wins over Stephen F. Austin in 2021 and SFA and Eastern Kentucky in 2022

- Those big plays included Adrian Murdaugh’s 52-yard touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage of the season. What made it rarer was that it came from a Bearkat running back, a group which has been depleted due to injury all year. Entering this week’s game at WKU the Kats only have 7 rushes of 20+ yards this season with only 2 of those rushes coming from running backs

- With the cycle of players who played during the COVID-altered 2020 season beginning to finish, it’s not a huge surprise to see players’ career numbers reach all-time highs. The Kats are seeing that as well, including linebacker Trevor Williams who will play in his 60th career game on Saturday vs WKU, a mark which is the most all-time at SHSU. He’s been a model of durability during his career, having played in double-digit games in 5 of his 6 years in Huntsville

- Sam Houston closed out its win over Kennesaw State incredibly efficiently to come all the way back for its first win at the FBS level. The Kats trailed 21-7 when it took possession with 5:41 left in the third quarter and proceeded to score on each of its final 3 drives, running 38 plays and picking up 190 yards in those drives

- That included a monster drive to tie the game at 21-21 in the fourth quarter when the Kats went 80 yards in 16 plays, using 9:24 off the clock. Keegan Shoemaker completed all 7 of his pass attempts on the drive for 34 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown connection with Jay Rockwell to tie the game

- Colby Sessums’ walk-off, game-winning FG from 35 yards out vs Kennesaw State was the first walk-off FG by a Kat since Tre Honshtein closed out an OT win over Central Arkansas in 2018. It was the first game-winning FG in the final minute of regulation since Seth Morgan’s winner with 34 seconds at Eastern Kentucky in 2022, and the first at home since Miguel Antonio nailed a 24-yarder with 24 seconds to play in a win over North Dakota State in 2009

- Sessums effort was enough to garner him Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week honors on Monday as he moved to 7-for-10 on FGs in 2023 and 17-for-17 on PATs. He was not the only Kat to earn a weekly honor from the league as Da’Marcus Crosby was named the league’s defensive player of the year after he had 10 stops and an interception for the second straight week, giving him 3 picks for the year. He is the first Kat with 3 INTs in a season since Zyon McCollum and Jaylen Thomas each had 3 in 2021

- Sam Houston had just 2 combined penetrations inside the opponent red zone in games vs BYU, Air Force and Houston, but have 23 in the 7 games since, coming away with points 22 times. The lone time the Kats did not score in CUSA play when entering the red zone was the final series of the game at Liberty, a 21-16 loss to the league-leading Flames

- The Kats expected to have an elite duo of dual-threat receivers this season in Noah Smith and Ife Adeyi, but lost Adeyi to injury early in the game at Houston. Since then, Smith has picked up the slack with 73 touches (54 rec, 19 rush) in the past 6 games, accounting for 584 all-purpose yards and 7 touchdowns. His efforts have shot him up the SHSU all-time charts, including moving up to sixth all-time at SHSU in career receptions with his 7-catch effort vs Kennesaw State.

Sam Houston (2-8, 1-5 CUSA) at WKU (5-5, 3-3 CUSA) Saturday, November 18 • 2:30 PM TV: ESPN+ (Jeff Hem, Terry Obee) RADIO: BSN (Jason Barfield, Brian Adams) Series vs the Hilltoppers: SHSU leads 1-0 • Full Series History