No. 5 Kats hit road to face Lions

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HUNTSVILLE – Saturday, Oct. 28 • Hammond, La. • 7:00 p.m. • Strawberry Stadium (7,408)
No. 5 Sam Houston State (6-1, 4-1 SLC) at Southeastern Louisiana (5-3, 5-1 SLC)
Live Stats • ESPN3 • @BearkatsFB on Twitter • Complete SHSU Game Notes

The Sam Houston State Bearkats climbed back into the top five of the national polls this week and will look to solidify that ranking this weekend when it faces Southeastern Louisiana in a stiff road test in Hammond on Saturday.

It will be the Bearkats’ first trip to Hammond since the 2013 season when they fell twice at Strawberry Stadium, the second time in being in the FCS playoffs. The teams met again in the opening round of the FCS playoffs a year later in Huntsville with the Kats pulling out a 21-17 win en route to the national semifinals. The teams have not squared off since that 2014 meeting and the Kats only have three players – Ragan Henderson, P.J. Hall and Yedidiah Louis – who have seen action against the Lions in their careers.

Sam Houston has won three in a row since getting tripped up by Central Arkansas nearly a month ago and remains squarely in the hunt for another Southland Conference title with a 4-1 mark in the league with the league-leading and undefeated Bears set to host McNeese this weekend in Conway. Meanwhile, the Lions have been red hot since dropping their first three games of the year, winning five straight after a convincing 56-21 win last week at Abilene Christian that saw them rack up a season-high 443 yards on the ground.

That rushing attack has been the key to the Lions’ resurgence as they lead the league and rank second in the country with an average of 321 yards per game, including an average of 366.4 yards per game during their current five-game win streak. Each of the top two leading rushers in the Southland – Marcus Cooper and Eugene Bethea – wear Lion uniforms, while Darren Johnson also ranks in the top 10.

Defensively, Southeastern is led by linebacker Sione Teuhema, a transfer from LSU who was a second team all-SLC choice last year who has elevated his game as a senior in 2017. He currently leads the SLC in sacks and tackles for loss and was recently added to the watch list for the prestigious Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s top defensive player.

Still, Teuhema and the Lion defense will have their hands full with an explosive Bearkat offense that leads the nation with 45.4 points per game, while ranking second in the country in passing yards and total offense.

Jeremiah Briscoe continues to direct the offense, throwing for 359.4 yards per game and ranking second in the nation in both passing yards and touchdowns. Much of that load has been carried by receivers Nathan Stewart and Davion Davis who rank as the top receiving duo in all of FCS with more than 1,600 yards between them.

The receiving corps should get a big boost this week with the expected return of Louis who has missed the last three weeks with injury. In his absence, the Kats have gotten outstanding production from sophomore Coree Compton who has 13 catches for 213 yards and a score in the last three games.

Even with the Lion ground game putting up big numbers, the Bearkat rushing attack has more than held its own this year too, ranking second in the SLC behind the Lions in rushing with 193.3 yards per game. Corey Avery has rushed for at least one score in each of his last five games and is ranking ninth in the nation with 6.6 yards per carry. Remus Bulmer is also coming off a big game against Lamar where he rushed for 103 yards and a score, finishing the game with 161 all-purpose yards.

On the defensive side, Sam Houston continues to force turnovers, already totaling 13 takeaways in 2017 while allowing opponents to convert on just 27.8 percent of third downs. Linebacker Justin Johnson and Adrian Contreras lead the team in tackles, while Chris Stewart’s six sacks is tops on the team.

Since missing the first two games of the year, PJ Hall has made up for time lost. The senior defensive lineman has already racked up 10.0 tackles for loss and five sacks in just five games while also blocking a pair of kicks. His two blocked kicks give him a dozen for his career, tying the school record. He needs just 2.5 tackles for loss to tie the FCS record in that category.

Saturday’s game will be aired live on ESPN3 with Lyn Rollins on play-by-play, Rene Nadeau providing color analysis and Abby Morris on the sidelines. Fans can also listen live on KSAM 101.7 FM with Kooter Roberson and E.P. Garth in the booth, and Brian Adams patrolling the sidelines.

Live stats are available to fans, in addition to live updates being provided by following @BearkatsFB on Twitter.

The Bearkats and Lions have not squared off since the first round of the 2014 FCS Playoffs when the Kats claimed a 21-17 win on their way to the semifinals. Saturday will mark the first time the Kats have played Southeastern in the regular season since 2013 when the Lions picked up a 34-21 win in Hammond, followed by a 30-29 win in the playoffs. Sam Houston owns an 11-7 overall record against Southeastern, including a 6-5 mark in Hammond, but will be searching for its first win at Strawberry Stadium since 2011.

- K.C. Keeler would win his 215th career game. He is currently tied for 17th all-time among FCS head coaches with Wofford’s Mike Ayers. One spot ahead of them on the all-time list is former SHSU head coach Ron Randleman, who sits 16th with 218 career wins.

- Sam Houston would win its 75th game since the beginning of the 2011 season. The Kats and North Dakota State are the only two teams in the FCS with 70 victories since the beginning of the 2011 campaign.

- The Kats would avoid dropping consecutive road games for just the second time under Keeler. The last time the Kats lost consecutive road games was early in the 2014 season at Eastern Washington and LSU. They have not lost consecutive road games in Southland Conference play since finishing out the 2013 regular season with losses at Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas.

- Sam extended its win streak at Bowers Stadium to 16 games, setting a new mark for the second longest home win streak in school history. The streak is the longest current streak in the FCS with the last loss at Bowers coming to Lamar on Sept. 19, 2015 by a 49-46 score. Since the start of 2011, the Kats have been nearly perfect on the Bowers Stadium turf, having won 43 of their last 45 games in front of their home crowd overall. The current school record for consecutive home victories is 23 in a row that stretched from 2010 to 2014.

- Jeremiah Briscoe finished with 371 yards in the air and set another Bearkat record on the game’s first snap from scrimmage when he connected with Coree Compton for a 57-yard touchdown, his 90th career touchdown pass. That completion moved him past Brian Bell’s old school record of 8,655 career passing yards. He now needs 999 more passing yards to become the first passer in SHSU history to reach 10,000 yards and 7 more touchdown scores to reach 100. Only two quarterbacks in SLC history - Jeremy Moses (SFA) and Nathan Brown (UCA) - have reached 100 career touchdown passes.

- Davion Davis only finished with 61 yards receiving, but it was his prowess on punt return that stood out against the Cardinals. In 2+ years as a Bearkat he did not have a punt return, but cashed in on his first try for a 46-yard score late in the first half, and less than 2 minutes later delivered a 54-yard return that set up a Bearkat touchdown just 1 play later. It was the first punt return for a score by a Bearkat since Yedidiah Louis against SFA in 2015, and the 100 punt return yards makes Davis 1 of just 5 players in the FCS with 100 punt return yards in a game this year.

- Sam Houston chalked up 47 points in the first half, the most in a half since scoring 52 against UIW in 2015.

- With 63 points, Sam Houston exceeded the 50-point plateau at Bowers Stadium for the 10th time under K.C. Keeler. The Kats also finished with 643 total yards, surpassing the 600-yard mark for the fourth time this season and matching a program high for times going over that mark. Of the 18 total times it’s happened in school history, 13 times have come since the 2014 season.

- Kicker Tre Honshtein set a new career high with 3 made field goals against the Cardinals. The junior drilled a 22-yarder, 26-yarder and a 44-yarder. It marked the most converted field goals for a Bearkat since Luc Swimberghe had 3 at Lamar on Sept. 27, 2014.

- Nathan Stewart continued his assault on opposing defenses against the Cardinals with 147 yards on 5 catches and a pair of touchdowns. It was his 20th career game and he has now totaled 1,956 yards receiving with 20 touchdowns. He is already the fastest Bearkat in history to catch 20 touchdown passes and needs just 44 yards to reach 2,000 for his career.

- Corey Avery’s 78 yards on the ground gave him 2,699 yards for his career and moved him into sole possession of second place all-time at SHSU. He now trails only Timothy Flanders’ 5,644 yards which is both the most in Sam Houston and Southland Conference history.

- Sam Houston’s defense continued its prowess of efficiency on third down against Lamar. The Kats allowed the Cardinals to convert just 4 of 18 third downs, marking the third time in the last 4 games an opponent has been below 25% on third-down conversions. In the season’s first 2 games opponents were 16/36 (.444) on third downs, but are just 16/79 (.202) in the last 4 games.

- The Kats got interceptions from Royce See and Zyon McCollum, giving them multiple takeaways for the fifth time in 7 games this year. The Kats only had 4 games in all of 2016 with multiple takeaways and have not had more than 6 in a year since they had 10 in the 2012 season.

- Sam Houston racked up 7.0 tackles for loss against the Cardinals. They have gone 34 consecutive games with at least 3.0 TFLs.