Updated: Nov 2
Before we begin, I'd like to extend a special heartfelt THANK YOU to the Tarleton Sports Information Staff--Nate Bural, Associate Athletic Director of Athletic Communications and Jacob Withee, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations--for providing hospitality and credentials to allow me to cover this game from the press box. Nate, you've always been solid!
Another big shout-out goes to Ben Rikard, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Sam Houston, who sat next to me and fed absolute statistical and historical pearls in real-time. Ben, I need you in my ear when I do these from home! Thanks to all of these guys for making this a really cool experience--my first one covering a game from the press box in this capacity.
STEPHENVILLE, Texas -- The football Gods couldn’t have dialed up better weather for Saturday evening’s matchup between the visiting Bearkats from Sam Houston (7-0, 4-0 AQ7) and host and FCS transitional member Tarleton State University (4-4). After consecutive days of howling north winds in the Stephenville area, Saturday’s breezy beginnings gave way to tranquil conditions at Tarleton’s Memorial Stadium and a 45-27 win for the Bearkats.
Saturday’s game was sprinkled with history, some recent, and some reaching all the way back to the 19th century. With Sam Houston's win, the Kats stretch their Division 1-leading win streak to 18 games, have won more games (17) than any other college football team in a calendar year and head coach KC Keeler won his 250th career college football game joining an elite group of 28 head coaches to ever do so. Keeler is also the 5th fastest and 9th youngest coach to reach the 250 mark.
Saturday's contest was also the first time since his tenure at Sam Houston (2005-2009) that Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten has coached against his former team, and the Texans came out firing.
Tarleton’s quarterback Steven Duncan and Todd Whitten’s offensive mastery attacked the seams downfield all night. Tarleton carved up Sam Houston’s defense with 12 explosive passing plays of 15 or more yards, and Duncan lit up the stat sheet going 25-43 (58%) for 403 yards and a 167.6 passer rating. Duncan hit on touchdown passes of 21 and 1 yards in the first quarter and 23, and 34 yards in the fourth throwing touchdown passes to 3 different receivers.
For all of the talk of Sam Houston’s vaunted defense, it was the offense who came out to play in Stephenville on Halloween Eve.
Ramon Jefferson shredded the Tarleton defense for 168 yards on 22 carries (7.6 YPC); Eric Schmid had one of the best games of his career going 26-38 (68%) for 312 yards (8.2 YPA), 5 touchdowns, and a 175.5 passer rating while adding another 7 carries for 42 yards (6.0 YPC) on the ground and a touchdown; and Cody Chrest had a career-high yardage game catching 9 of Schmid’s passes for 148 yards. Ife Adeyi also tallied his second career game with multiple touchdowns finishing the night with 3 TD catches and eight total receptions.
Schmid accounted for 6 total touchdowns--the third time in his career he’s accounted for 6 or more scores and also the third time he’s thrown for 5 or more passing touchdowns. Ramon Jefferson went over 100 yards for the 5th time this season.
The Kats racked up 578 yards of total offense balancing 312 through the air with 266 on the ground, but Tarleton--not to be outdone--kept things interesting with huge plays and 403 of their 464 yards coming through the air.
Correction: Original statistical data used was from Tarleton Sports Information. Corrections were made from the unofficial statistics available at publishing.
For everything the Bearkat offense was, it was the defense that was largely non-existent against an upstart Tarleton team that was taken to the wire a week ago in a 17-14 homecoming win over former Lone Star Conference Division II rival Midwestern State. The Kats only managed one sack of Duncan and mustered only 3 tackles for loss on the night.
Sam Houston lost the turnover battle 2-0 as Ramon Jefferson coughed up the ball for the first time in his career and Eric Schmid was intercepted once by All-WAC defensive back candidate Benjie Franklin on one of the most athletic interceptions you’ll ever see.
After a back and forth affair in the first quarter with both teams scoring 14 points, it was the visiting Bearkats who rattled off 31 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to put the game mostly out of reach at 45-14; however, Tarleton’s Duncan would hit JF Thomas for 23 yards with 11:08 remaining in the 4th and follow it up with another touchdown strike to Tyriq Bitson--his second TD catch of the game--with 7:15 remaining kept things interesting late in the 4th.
Following Duncan’s 4th touchdown pass, disaster nearly struck as a miscommunication on the ensuing kickoff--a pooch kick from TSU placekicker Adrian Guzman--almost resulted in a short field for the Texans; however, the Kats managed to recover at their own 20, go into their 4-minute offense, and move the ball midway into Texan territory. The drive resulted in a turnover on downs but managed to milk 5:06 off the clock and flip the field on the Texans to put the game away.
Tarleton would run out the remaining 2-plus minutes of clock, and the Kats would move to 7-0 on the season with a 45-27 win.
With Sam Houston’s 17th win in 2021 and 18th straight dating back to the 2019 season, the Kats have won more games in a calendar year than any team in the history of college football. Three teams in the sport had won 16 games--Yale (1894 ), Chicago (1899), and North Dakota State (2019).
Correction: The original article reported that four teams had won 16 games in a calendar year including the 1889 Yale team. Yale's 1889 team went 15-1.
Sam Houston will return to the friendly confines of Bowers Stadium next Saturday for a 12:00 kickoff and matchup with transitioning FCS and fellow WAC member Dixie State. Dixie is winless on the season at 0-7 after narrowly falling to Delaware on the road 17-10.
Things got started with a Weston Stephens kickoff return from near the goal line out to the Sam Houston 31 where the Kats set up shop. After short gains on the ground, Ramon Jefferson busted a 23-yard run breaking through Texan would-be tackles on 3rd-and-short followed by 16 yards from Noah Smith to set the Kats up inside the red zone. 16-yard and 4-yard carries by Jefferson put the Kats inside the 10-yard line where one play later, Eric Schmid would hit Ife Adeyi on a screen to punch Sam Houston into the end zone for the game’s first points and a 7-0 lead.
Tarleton quickly got to work from their own 23 and used only 6 plays to go 77 yards in 1:49 entirely on the arm of quarterback Steven Duncan, exposing the Sam Houston secondary. Duncan went 4-6 on the drive culminating in a 21-yard touchdown pass to Tyriq Bitson to tie the game at 7 apiece.
Following a touchback, Sam Houston moved the ball with a balanced attack but found themselves in a 4th-and-short situation near midfield. Schmid handed off to Jefferson who committed his first-career fumble that was recovered at the 49 yard line by Tarleton’s Sam Hagler.
With the ball already in plus territory, Duncan and the Texans again went back to the air but after 3-consecutive Duncan passes and one 7-yard completion, Tarleton faced a 4th-and-3 of their own, but Duncan’s pass down the middle to Antwoine Ware was overthrown giving the ball back to Sam Houston on downs at the Sam 42.
Through two possessions, Tarleton had yet to put the ball on the ground.
Sam Houston wasted no time moving the ball down to the Texan 18 yard line following the turnover on downs. On 2nd-and-10 from the 18, Schmid hid Adeyi for 18 yards on a corner route in the back of the end zone to regain the lead 14-7 following Seth Morgan’s PAT.
For the first time in the game and late in the 1st quarter, Tarleton finally handed the ball off but for no gain. An incomplete pass and a 5-yard completion from Duncan to Dray Roberson left the Texans with a 4th-and-4 and a 3-and-out, but on Sam Houston’s next play from scrimmage following a Jequez Ezzard fair catch, Tarleton’s Benji Franklin climbed the ladder on the near side to pick off Schmid at the Sam Houston 38.
After a false start penalty, Duncan went back to the air and hit Dray Roberson up the seam for 42 yards down to the Sam Houston 2 with just under 2:00 remaining in the first quarter. Three plays later, Duncan hit Derrell Kelley on a swing pass for an untouched 1-yard touchdown to tie things up at 14 with less than a minute remaining in the quarter.
At 14-14 with time winding down in the first stanza, Stephens again made a great kick return out to the Sam Houston 38 to start the drive. A 17-yard Noah Smith run and a pass interference penalty against Tarleton’s Benjie Franklin attempting to guard Jequez Ezzard pushed the ball down to the Texan 30. A 7-yard rush by Jefferson got the Kats to the Tarleton 43 and back into scoring position to finish the 1st quarter.
In the first, with the score tied 14-14, the box score looked like something out of an Enron accounting book with Tarleton dominating the air attack with 133 yards and 2 touchdowns while Sam Houston put the ball on the ground 13 times for 121 yards. The Kats outgained the Texans 175-133.
Tarleton attempted only 3 rushes for zero yards. Both of Sam Houston’s touchdowns were passes from Schmid to Adeyi.
Two plays into the second quarter, Sam Houston punched it in again on the legs of Eric Schmid from 9 yards out to cap a 4-play 62-yard drive and take a 21-14 lead.
Tarleton started their first drive of the second quarter on their own 25 following a touchback.
After a short pass, Duncan hit Kaylon Horton for 32 yards to get the Texans on the plus side of the field down to the Sam Houston 41. After their first positive rushing play of the game, Duncan connected with Horton again for 19 yards, but a holding penalty moved the ball back into a 2nd-and-17. On 3rd-and-10, Scean Mustin finally got home on Duncan for the Kats and dropped him for the Kats first and only sack of the game back to the Sam Houston 46.
Jake Walrath’s punt was downed at the Sam Houston 5 and the Kats would take over with their worst field position of the game.
The Kats again found success on the ground with gains of 6, 5, and 4 yards by Jefferson and scrambles of 12 and 10 yards by Schmid then back to Jefferson for gains of 7 and 6 before a holding penalty pushed the Kats back to their own 45. A loss of two to Noah Smith and another Schmid scramble for 4 yards put the Kats in 3rd and long, but Ryan Carty’s trickeration screen couldn’t gain enough and Sam Houston was forced to punt.
Matt McRobert’s punt was fair caught at the 11 yard line.
After effectively flipping the field on their last offensive possession, the Sam Houston defense did its job and forced a 3-and-out from the Texans. Ezzard returned Walrath’s punt 12 yards into Tarleton territory to the TSU 46 with 3:02 remaining in the first half.
The Kats managed a first down on a 9-yard catch and run by Adeyi and 3-yard carry by Smith. On the next play, from the Tarleton 34, Tarleton’s Tre Johnson was flagged for pass interference, and on the ensuing play, Schmid capitalized by hitting Noah Smith on a screen play to the near side for a 19-yard touchdown with 1:49 remaining in the half and a 28-14 Sam Houston lead.
Schmid’s pass to Smith was his 3rd touchdown pass of the half and 50th of his career.
With 1:45 remaining in the half, Tarleton took over at their own 14. After 3 consecutive short runs by Derrell Kelley, Duncan again hit on a big play--this one a 31-yard completion to Bitson on the near side with 30 seconds remaining in the half. After a scramble-completion by Duncan to Ware for 20 yards to the Sam 24 and a clocked ball, Duncan completed to Kelley streaking right-to-left for 11 yards to push the ball down to the Sam Houston 13 where Tarleton would attempt a 31-yard field goal, but Adrian Guzman’s kick was blocked by Big Joe Wallace to close out the first half.
A fireworks-filled first half was a tale of two completely different offenses. Tarleton gained 248 offensive yards with 96% of them (239) coming through the air. On the other hand, Sam Houston dominated the ground game rushing for 185 of their 291 yards.
Eric Schmid accounted for all 4 of Sam Houston’s touchdowns rushing for 1 and passing for 3 with an interception. Ramon Jefferson rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries (7.6 YPC) while Noah Smith gained 56 on 6 carries (9.3 YPC) to go along with 40 yards by Schmid on 5 carries (8.0 YPC).
All said the Kats rushed 24 times for 185 yards and an eye-popping 7.7 yards per carry.
For the men in purple, it was all through the air with Steven Duncan going 15-23 with 239 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While offense was the story of the first half, it was the Kats who outscored Tarleton 14-0 in the 2nd quarter to take a 28-14 lead into the halftime locker room.
The second half started with Tarleton taking the ball at their own 25 following a touchback on the 2nd half kickoff.
After a short gain on the ground, Duncan connected to Ware for 22 yards and Marvin Landy for 10 yards to quickly move the ball into Bearkat territory at the 40 yard line. After consecutive completions, Tarleton found themselves in a 3rd-and-10, but Duncan’s pass to the far side fell incomplete to stall the drive. Cody Chrest would set up the Kats from their own 10.
Jequez Ezzard finally got his first and only catch making men miss en route to a 16-yard gain on 2nd-and-7 out to the Sam 29. A 25-yard rush for Ramon Jefferson put him over 100 yards for the 5th time in the season and got the Kats into Tarleton territory.
A Schmid completion on a double-pitch play was followed by a 5-yard Jefferson rush and a 2-yard loss by Trapper Pannell to bring up 4th-and-7. An intentional delay of game penalty, declined by Tarleton, brought Matt McRobert out onto the field. McRobert’s punt died near the goal line, but Sam’s special teams squad couldn’t corral it, and the Texans would take over for their second possession of the half from the 20.
After a 1-yard loss and back-to-back incompletions, the Texans were again forced to punt following a 3-and-out. Walrath’s punt was downed at the Sam Houston 31 with 9:05 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Sam Houston used chunk plays of 17, 8, and 10 yards coupled with intermediate plays and a Tarleton hands to the face penalty to get the ball down to the Tarleton 9 yard line. But 3 consecutive plays, a no-gain completion to Smith, and back-to-back pass attempts to Cody Chrest forced a 26-yard Seth Morgan field goal.
After an 0-2 game a week ago against Jacksonville State, Morgan’s kick was pure to give the Kats a 31-14 lead and 17 unanswered points with 5:22 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Tarleton’s next drive started at their own 25 following a Sam Houston touchback on the kickoff, but the Kat defense would again lock down Duncan and the Texans, force another 3-and-out and take over at their own 34 following Walrath’s punt.
It only took Sam Houston two plays to go 66-yards all on the arm of Schmid. On the first play of the drive, Cody Crest made an NFL-caliber catch for 40 yards to get the ball down to the Tarleton 26. On the next play, Schmid hit Chandler Harvin on a double move in the left corner for 26 yards, a touchdown, and a 38-14 lead with 3:50 remaining in the third.
Tarleton, consistent with field position, started their 3rd drive of the quarter at their 25, and to go with the consistency of their own, the Kats forced another 3-and-out of the Tarleton offense. Schmid and the offense started at their own 38 following the punt.
To go with the theme of the half, Sam Houston moved the ball down to the Tarleton 8 after Chrest again made a League-quality catch for 43-yards on the left side of the field. An illegal man downfield was the only thing that would hold up the Kats on the drive as Eric Schmid, on 1st-and-goal from the Tarleton 13, pushed a shovel pass to Adeyi to further stretch the Bearkat lead to 45-14 and 31 unanswered points with 1:16 remaining in the 3rd.
The third quarter, while a seemingly tired story for Sam Houston opponents, resulted in 17 unanswered Sam Houston points and a colossal 230-44 yard disparity between the two squads. Most of Sam Houston’s work in the quarter came through the air as Schmid had the hot hand and turned the tables on Tarleton’s Duncan going 10-13 with 2 touchdowns and 178 yards through the air.
Through 3 quarters of play, Eric Schmid had accumulated his 3rd career game with 5 or more touchdown passes and also his 3rd career game with 6 or more total touchdowns.
Tarleton got the hostilities going in the 4th quarter from their own 29 staring down a 3rd-and-6. An offside penalty and a keeper from Duncan gained a first down. A handful of dink-and-dump passes from Duncan moved the ball out to the Sam Houston 43. A 20-yard Duncan pass to Horton set up a 23-yard touchdown pass from Duncan to JF Thomas to cut the Sam Houston lead to 45-21 with 11:08 remaining in the game. Duncan’s touchdown pass was Tarleton’s first score since the 0:48 mark in the 1st quarter.
Tarleton would return the defensive favor by forcing the Kats to a 3-and-out--their first of the half and only their second non-scoring drive of the half. Tarleton took over after McRobert’s punt at their own 30.
Tarleton started their drive by getting called for a 15-yard facemask penalty but wasted no time getting the ball down the field on a 12-yard completion from Duncan to Bitson and an acrobatic completion to JF Thomas for 22 yards.
A Sam Houston pass interference and 2-yard run by Rhyheem Skinner would set up Duncan’s 4th touchdown pass of the game--this one from 34 yards to Bitson. Tarleton’s 2-point conversion attempt to get the deficit to 2 scores and 16 points failed and the Texans trailed 45-27 with 7:15 remaining in the game.
Tarleton’s pooch kick attempt on the ensuing kickoff nearly resulted in a turnover as Sam Houston failed to field the kick and Kamryn Alexander recovered the live ball at the Sam 20.
With Schmid still in the game, nursing an 18-point lead, and in 4-minute offense mode, the Kats went to the ground game handing the ball to Jefferson for 17 yards out to the Sam Houston 37. Schmid completed to Chrest for 9 yards before handing to Jefferson again for 13 to push the ball near midfield. Another 7 yards from Schmid to Adeyi and a holding penalty on Tarleton’s defensive back Devin Hafford had the Kats down to the Tarleton 31.
On 3rd-and-3, Schmid was sacked while rolling to the right by the Texans’ Markel Clark for a loss of 7. On 4th-and-10, Schmid’s pass to Brennon Tibbs was caught shy of the yardage needed for the first down.
From there, Tarleton would take over on downs and finish off the remaining 2:04 of the game.