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Bearkats Overcome Slow Start to Rout Jacksonville State

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

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Photo Credit: Sam Houston Athletics

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Sam Houston Game Recap: Bearkats Roll Over Jacksonville State 42-7

Jacksonville State Game Recap: No. 1 Sam Houston Extends Division I-Best Win Streak Against Gamecocks

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Following their second bye week of the season, Sam Houston (6-0, 4-0 AQ7) came out flat against a hungry Jacksonville State (3-4, 1-1 AQ7) team but used a surge towards the end of the 1st and all of the 2nd quarter to take a big lead into the half. Sam Houston, hosting the visiting Gamecocks at Bowers Stadium for the first time since 2001, was looking to avenge a 62-10 shellacking from the 2015 playoffs.

The Bearkats started slow and Eric Schmid struggled early, but the Bearkat offense turned it on with help of the defense to dominate the final 16:32 of the first half, scoring 21 unanswered points, and spoiling a JSU bid to put points on the board at the end of the half. Led by 78 first half rushing yards from Ramon Jefferson, the Kats scored 3 rushing touchdowns to put the game mostly out of reach at the half.

Once Schmid settled in, the offense ran like a top.

Schmid turned it on in the second quarter with a 3-yard run to round out the second half, a 66-yard touchdown pass to Ife Adeyi, and a 21-yard gainer to Jequez Ezzard. Schmid finished the day 17-30 for 227 yards, 2 touchdowns through the air, and one interception.

Ramon Jefferson ran for 110 yards on only 14 touches and two touchdowns while Schmid (40 yards), Adeyi (25 yards), and Smith (20 yards) with the rest of the Bearkat rushing attack netted 228 yards on the ground.

Much of Sam Houston’s offensive production was set up by short fields by an opportunistic ball-hawking defensive effort (2 fumbles, 1 interception) which resulted in 14 points by the offense. The defense netted 4 tackles for loss while Jevon Leon managed a sack-fumble of JSU quarterback Zerrick Cooper and Jahari Kay also got on the stat sheet with a sack.

Overall, the Kats outgained the Gamecocks 463-319 and only allowed 123 yards rushing.

Sam Houston will travel to Stephenville next week for a 6:00 kickoff against WAC transitioning member Tarleton State.

First Quarter

Both teams traded 3-and-outs before Sam Houston put together a drive into JSU territory but couldn’t convert a 40-yard Seth Morgan field goal attempt. On their ensuing possession, Jacksonville State scored the first touchdown of the game on a 6-yard rush by quarterback Zerrick Cooper. That drive was set up by a 15-yard rush and a 47-yard catch and run which was accentuated by a roughing the passer penalty against Joseph Wallace.

Early on, Jacksonville State wasn’t allowing any room up the middle as multiple shovel passes and rushes were stuffed by the Jax State defensive front.

Following the JSU touchdown, Sam Houston again was able to move the ball, albeit in a sloppy fashion. Eric Schmid had trouble finding his groove missing multiple open receivers before throwing incomplete on 3rd-and-3. Matt McRobert’s punt was downed at the JSU 2 yard line where the Gamecocks would take over.

In great defensive field position, Sam Houston’s defense stiffened and allowed only 8 yards to the Gamecocks forcing yet another JSU 3-and-out. A great punt return by highlight playmaker Jequez Ezzard following a near punt block by the Bearkat special teams unit had the Kats in prime position at the JSU 33.

On the next play from scrimmage, Ramon Jefferson busted through for an almost untouched 33-yard touchdown run. Seth Morgan’s PAT tied the game at 7 with 1:25 remaining in the 1st quarter. The Kats’ sloppy and slow start had suddenly accelerated rapidly.

JSU would bring out the ensuing kickoff to their own 26 yard line where they would set up shop in the waning seconds of the 1st quarter. After no gain and a QB sack by Joseph Wallace on 2nd down, the Bearkats rally tackled receiver Josh Samuel to force a second consecutive 3-and-out to end the 1st quarter.

Despite a 7-7 deadlock, Sam Houston maintained an edge in virtually every statistical category. Sam possessed the ball for nearly 9 minutes while racking up 110 total yards and 71 yards on the ground while forcing 3 Jacksonville State 3-and-outs.

Second Quarter

Sam Houston, with the South wind at their backs, started the 2nd quarter at their own 39 yard line.

Promising field position, though, wouldn’t turn into much as offensive lineman Colby Thomas was flagged for a personal foul penalty for continuing participation after losing his helmet. Schmid and the offense couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-22 and Matt McRobert would punt with the wind at his back. McRobert, standing at about his own 11 booted the ball 73 yards into the JSU end zone where the Gamecocks would take over at their own 20 with 13:38 remaining in the half.

Jacksonville State converted a 3rd-and-8 out to the Kats’ 32 following back-to-back rushing plays. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, Cooper’s pass to Samuel was sniffed out by the Sam Houston defense, and the Gamecocks were forced into a 4th-and-1 punting situation. Despite not allowing much on the defensive end, the Gamecocks effectively flipped the field and the Sam Houston offense would take over at their own 13 after an Ezzard fair catch.

The Kats started moving the ball picking up first downs on a Schmid scramble and completion to Brennon Tibbs. Back-to-back Schmid to Ezzard connections yielded first downs on gains of 18 and 24 yards down to the JSU 20. On the next play, a double-reverse to Ife Adeyi, netted another 18 yards before Adeyi was form tackled down to the ground at the 2 yard line by JSU’s Jamari Jemison. On the next play, the Bearkats would punch it in on a Noah Smith jet sweep from left to right made possible by an excellent block by tight end Isaac Schley.

Smith’s touchdown run would cap an 8-play, 87-yard drive that took off 3:44 from the game clock leaving 6:52 remaining in the first half. Schmid finished the drive 3-3 with 57 yards. The Kats, to this point, had run up 14-straight points. Perhaps this is where Sam Houston’s offense would find their groove.

JSU would take over at their own 20 following a short kickoff and return.

After a medium pass gain, the Kats were flagged again for a personal foul--this time a facemask committed by Joseph Wallace on Gamecock’s running back Ron Wiggins pushing the ball out to the Gamecock’s 43. Two of Cooper’s next three passes should have been intercepted--one by Tristan McCollum, another by defensive lineman Scean Mustin. A JSU punt to the SHSU 23 had the Kats with the ball again.

From the first play, the Kats went to Ramon Jefferson on consecutive first down gains of 11 and 13 yards to push the ball out to the Sam Houston 47. After a dropped pass by Jequez Ezzard and a short rushing gain by Kyran Jackson, Eric Schmid was intercepted; however, a pass interference penalty against the Gamecocks would move the ball to the JSU 35.

As light rain began to fall in Huntsville, Sam Houston came out in one of Ryan Carty’s signature gimmicky formations which netted a 5-yard push pass completion to Smith. An incomplete pass intended for Cody Chrest had the Kats in a 4th-and-6 with the offense on the field. Schmid’s pass fell woefully short of his intended receiver and Sam Houston turned the ball over on downs.

JSU took over at their own 30 following the turnover on downs with just under 3:00 remaining in the half. After a short quarterback keeper and near-sack around the line of scrimmage, Zion McCollum finally got a takeaway for the Kats intercepting Cooper and bringing the ball all the way down to the JSU 9.

On the first play of the drive, JSU blew up Schmid’s option attempt to the right side, but a last-second pitch to Smith and some shifty running put the Bearkat offense down inside the 5 yard line, but a loss of a few yards had the Kats in a 3rd-and-goal situation from the 3-yard line where Schmid expertly executed the read-option for a 3-yard touchdown run. Seth Morgan’s PAT put the Kats up 21-7 and stretched a 21-point run.

JSU started their last drive of the half at their own 25 after a touchback on the kickoff with 1:17 remaining on the clock. A gain of 15 yards on a pass from Cooper to Samuel got the drive started, but 4 plays later, Jevon Leon forced a sack-fumble to give the Kats the ball at the JSU 46. A Schmid scramble for 5 yards and a 7-yard completion to Ezzard left the Bearkat offense at the JSU 31 yard line with 1 second remaining in the half, but Seth Morgan’s 51-yard attempt missed about 10 yards wide right and the Kats would be content to take a 21-7 lead into halftime.

Sam Houston continued its dominance of the middle stanzas of games by scoring 14 points, gaining 142 yards of offense while forcing two JSU turnovers in the second quarter. The Kat offense evened out its 2nd quarter offensive efficiency going for 74 yards on the ground and 68 through the air all while not allowing a first down to the JSU offense except through penalty.

For the half, Sam Houston outgained the Gamecocks 252-136 in total yards and 145-29 in rushing yards while passing yards were deadlocked at 107. The Bearkat defense was dominant following the JSU touchdown drive forcing two sacks of Cooper and two turnovers. Perhaps the biggest stat of the game through the first half was Sam Houston’s 6.0 yard per rush average. If the Bearkats were to pull away in the second half, it would be on the legs of Jefferson and the rest of the SHSU stable of backs.

Third Quarter

JSU busted off a big run on the second play from scrimmage to the tune of 22 yards at the hands of Uriah West gave the Gamecocks the ball at their own 47. Another 16-yard chunk play on 3rd-and-9--a completion from Cooper to Ahmad Edwards--put JSU into Sam Houston territory at the 36. Sam Houston brought a jailbreak blitz on 3rd-and-5 to force JSU into a 4th and medium against the wind which the Gamecocks converted with a 15-yard passing play down to the SHSU 16 with Cooper hitting receiver PJ Wells streaking from left-to-right.

The Kats again forced JSU into a 4th down situation with 4th-and-6 where JSU would attempt a 28-yard field goal which kicker Allen Karajic missed.

Sam Houston started their first drive of the second half at their own 20 and promptly picked up gains of 9 yards on the legs of Schmid before picking up another 5 yards on a pass from Schmid to Smith. On the 3rd play of the drive, Schmid wound up and hit Ife Adeyi in stride for a 66-yard touchdown strike. Morgan’s PAT would push the Sam Houston lead to 28-7 and push the Sam scoring streak to 28-0. The drive used up only 52 seconds and ate up 80 yards of turf.

JSU took over at their own 25 following a touchback, but two plays later, Trevor Williams recovered a JSU fumble at the JSU 32.

In prime position to bolster their lead, Sam picked up a first down on two plays before Schmid found Jequez Ezzard at the 5 yard line--Ezzard did the rest for a 21-yard SHSU touchdown. With Seth Morgan’s PAT, the Kats had a 35-7 lead.

With 3 takeaways and a 28-point lead, the Kats were primed to cruise to victory and prove to the NCAA Selection Committee that they were worthy of the #1 seed in the NCAA Playoffs.

A defensive 3-and-out and a solid punt return by Cody Chrest into JSU territory again had the Kats with excellent field position and poised to stretch their lead with 5:31 remaining in the 3rd quarter. 13 yards from Schmid to Smith and another 9 to Smith left the Kats with a 4th-and-1. Ramon Jefferson got the call and blasted through the JSU defensive front for 6 yards and a Kat first down at the JSU 10. Another 6 from Jefferson had the Kats in a 3rd-and-goal from the 4. From there, it was Ramon Jefferson from 6-yards out who put the Kats up 41-7. Morgan’s PAT put the margin to 42-7 with 2:12 remaining in the 3rd.

The Gamecocks would manage to move the ball 44 yards into Sam Houston territory to cap off the 3rd quarter, but only after Sam Houston hung 21 points and 42 straight.

The third quarter is much of what Sam Houston fans have come accustomed to over the 2021 season--21 points, 150 yards, and bigtime explosive plays from both the offense and defense.

Fourth Quarter

The 4th quarter started much the same for Sam Houston. The Kats stopped JSU on 4 consecutive plays to give the offense the ball, but on the next offensive play, Eric Schmid was blasted on a pass attempt that fell into the hands of JSU’s Yessman Green for an interception.

A 3-and-out by JSU gave Sam Houston the ball at their own 10 following a punt. Following a few plays and a first down pickup, Keegan Shoemaker came in for finish-off duty with about 12:00 remaining in the game.

With the result already well in hand, Sam and JSU would exchange possessions in the 4th quarter with backups from both squads seeing action for most of the remainder of the game.

Takeaways and Leftovers

Slow Offensive Start Gave Way to Big Production

After a slow offensive start and several missed throws by Eric Schmid, the offense and Schmid found their groove. Given a short field, Ramon Jefferson only needed one play to go 33 yards and start what would end up being 42-straight points scored by the Bearkat offense.

On Sam Houston’s second scoring drive, one that consumed 3:44 of the clock over 8 plays and 87 yards, Ryan Carty put together a masterpiece of playcalling. Often criticized this season for poor playcalling on short-yardage situations, Carty gave Schmid and the rest of the offense ample opportunities to succeed and may very well have called the drive of the season. Schmid on the drive was 3 for 3 on the drive hitting intermediate routes to Brennon Tibbs for 15 yards and Jequez Ezzard for gains of 18 (mostly Ezzard) and 24 to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Noah Smith.

Schmid struggled early with the deep ball and protection broke down under an aggressive JSU defensive front, but Carty made the adjustments necessary to let his All-America quarterback make shorter throws requiring less time while mixing in run plays to keep the Gamecocks guessing. Come playoff time, this level of adjustment and creativity will be crucial for keeping the Kats offense on the field, scoring points, and countering aggressive defensive schemes.

Eric Schmid’s Struggles Turned Successful

Eric Schmid, starting after the team’s second bye week of the season, struggled in the game against Lamar and looked to be initially unable to shake off both that game and the rust from the off week. Early on, Carty dialed up deep throws for Schmid and plays to attack the seams against an aggressive JSU defense. Schmid was off target more than he was on, and it seemed as though the Kat offense was in for a long day.

Then, almost like the flip of a switch, Carty switched from a downfield attack to a balanced run-pass playcalling strategy and gave Schmid more underneath routes to let his receivers make plays. This switch allowed Schmid to gain more confidence, complete more passes and ultimately opened up the playbook to allow big shots with the biggest one a 66-yarder from Schmid to Ife Adeyi.

Schmid started the game a pedestrian 7-14 (50%) for 46 yards (3.28 YPA) but finished 10-16 (62.5%) for 181 yards (11.3 YPA) and 2 TDs.

Schmid certainly has the arm strength to complete deep passes, albeit his downfield accuracy has always been a little shaky. For him to succeed long-term, it’s imperative that Carty give him and the rest of the offense underneath routes to open up the deep ball. Jacksonville State brought a defensive front and pressure to move Schmid off his spots, force him to make throws on the run, and didn’t allow him to tee off on deep balls.

All-in-all, Schmid played well and his lone interception should have been on the officials as he was clocked during and after the throw. Schmid, trying to throw the ball away to the far side of the field, should have earned a roughing-the-passer penalty, but throughout the game, the officials kept the flags in their belts.

Defense Locked Down

Jacksonville State probably came into Bowers with a couple of the biggest players in the backfield that the Kat D has seen all season. Quarterback Zerrick Cooper (6’3” 217 lbs.) and running back Usiah West (6’0” 225 lbs.) are a healthy 1-2 punch for the Gamecocks and West’s physicality was nothing to sniff at. While Cooper lacked the overall speed to be much of a threat, West’s size earned him one of the better running back performances against the SHSU defense in 2+ seasons with 69 yards on only 7 carries including a 22-yard dash.

It looked early on that JSU had a formula for the Bearkat defense scoring on their second offensive possession of the game. That drive ate up 77 yards and included a 15-yard rush from West and a 47-yard completion from Cooper to wide receiver Ahmad Edwards, but the Sam Houston defense absolutely locked down the JSU offense.

After JSU’s only points of the game, the Sam defense forced consecutive 3-and-outs, two more punts, an interception, and a fumble to round out the first half. JSU put together one potential scoring drive--their first of the second half--which ended in a missed field goal. From there, JSU’s offensive production was virtually naught as the Kats just simply didn’t allow anything to get downfield much less past the line of scrimmage.

A Look Ahead

The Kats will hit the road for a 3 ½ hour road trip to north-central Texas and a matchup with transitioning WAC member Tarleton State in Stephenville for a 6:00 PM kickoff.

The Texans, also coming off of their homecoming, snuck past former Lone Star Conference Division II rival Midwestern State 17-14 in a game where Tarleton was largely outplayed physically by the Mustangs. Midwestern scored a touchdown on 4th and goal late in the 4th quarter to cut the Tarleton lead to 3 points, but a Tarleton punt on their ensuing possession was downed at the MSU 1 yard line with less than a minute remaining and no timeouts.

Tarleton’s matchup against Midwestern was far and away its toughest home test of the season. Tarleton’s previous home games were wins against Division II bottom-dwellers Fort Lewis and New Mexico Highlands. Midwestern entered the game 5-1 and ranked #19 in the latest AFCA Division II Coaches Poll and gave the Texans all they could handle taking the game into a 7-7 deadlock at halftime. A handful of explosive offensive plays by Tarleton made the difference in the game, but MSU’s physicality almost doomed the Texans in front of 16,216 spectators (mostly disguised as empty seats).

Photo of Tarleton's record crowd of 16,216 during October 24th's game against Midwestern State.

Tarleton is winless this season against full-FCS members and has one win against fellow transitioning member Dixie State on the road who is winless this year.

TSU’s quarterback Steven Duncan is a physical specimen with a big arm. Sam Houston fans will watch Duncan and have memories of two-time Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe. Duncan is a talented quarterback (transfer from Western Kentucky) and can absolutely fire the ball with a cannon for an arm. Like Briscoe, Duncan isn’t the most mobile but is efficient enough on his feet to pick up first downs if forced out of the pocket (think Aaron Rodgers).

Surrounding Duncan are a couple of talented wideouts in Tyriq Bitson and JF Thomas, and both have big-play potential. As with most Todd Whitten coached teams, the Texans will try to establish the run game early, but against one of the best defensive fronts in the FCS, likely won’t get much. Duncan has a cannon for an arm, but has been inaccurate and has missed reads throughout the season. He doesn’t do well under pressure, and we can be assured that plenty of that will be brought by Clayton Carlin.

Tarleton’s defensive secondary is likely the strength of their team but will be tested by some of the most talented wideouts in the nation on Saturday. Expect to see some creativity in the TSU secondary, but also expect for Jequez Ezzard, Cody Chrest, and Ife Adeyi to potentially have career days. Midwestern established the run early and often exposed holes in the TSU defensive front and unless things change after an emotional game, Sam Houston should be able to run Ramon Jefferson, Noah Smith, and Zach Hrbacek all day.

Playoff Scenarios

It’s that time of year where the season is more than halfway behind us and we can start to speculate on playoff scenarios.

With the meat of Sam Houston’s schedule behind them, the Kats are primed for a 4-0 finish to the season and control their own destiny for playoff seeding. Win out, go 10-0, and it would be an absolute shock for the Kats to not earn one of the top two seeds and keep the road to Frisco in the State of Texas.

On the national level, North Dakota State snuck by Missouri State in the Fargodome to likely solidify a top-2 seed while rival, conference mate, and last season’s National Runner-Up South Dakota State lost a home contest to Northern Iowa. Further down the list, Sam’s former Southland Conference foes Incarnate Word and Southeastern Louisiana made waves for different reasons. Both squads were in position for top-8 seeds going into Saturday, but UIW lost to McNeese while SELA moved to 6-1 with a rout of rival Northwestern Louisiana in Natchitoches.

The Kats find themselves in the doldrums of their schedule with games against Central Arkansas, Stephen F. Austin, and Jacksonville State behind them. Can KC Keeler keep his team focused to finish the home stretch, keep his players healthy, and earn a highly-coveted first-round bye? That remains to be seen, but I like their chances.

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