When the score was 59-10, what more is there to say about a team who lays down one of their biggest offense days of the year and limits an opponent who goes into desperation mode on their second offensive possession? Well, there’s still plenty to talk about including a 400+ yard rushing performance, some answers from last week’s leftovers, a bright future for the Bearkats, and some FCS upsets that have forged the playoff picture.
Bowers Needs New Turf
Bobby Williams only recently had the turf replaced at Bowers Stadium, but after Sam Houston rolled up 403 yards on the ground against a hapless Dixie State squad, BW may be looking for bids on new turf for Bowers Stadium. Ramon Jefferson and Noah Smith, both stalwarts of the Sam Houston offense this season, combined for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 13 carries, and most of their work was done in the first half.
It was two freshmen, Weston Stephens (7-90, 1 TD) and Zach Hrbacek (7-76, 1 TD) who stole the show in relief during the second half against many of Dixie’s young starters. Both Stephens and Hrbacek broke free for their first collegiate touchdowns and both scored career-long runs on those scores.
While I’m not sure how much you can take away from this overall rushing performance considering how outmanned Dixie State was, the fact that Sam Houston didn’t have to rely on Eric Schmid and the Sam Houston passing game reflects positively on what this stable of athletes is capable of if a playoff run stretches into mid-to-late December. While college ball is far from the NFL’s Frozen Tundra, against the NDSU’s, JMU’s, and SDSU’s of the world, running the ball successfully is a recipe for another trip back to Frisco.
The Future Is Bright
Both Weston Stephens and Zach Hrbacek got carries early in the season, but it’s been a little bit since we’ve seen much of either of them. Saturday’s drubbing of Dixie State, though, gave Kat fans plenty of opportunities to see just how bright the future of Sam Houston can be.
With the move to Conference USA announced less than 24 hours prior to kickoff, there are certainly some mixed emotions within the Sam Houston locker room; however, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the group of freshmen on this current roster could conceivably win an FCS National Championship and an FBS bowl game in their time at Sam Houston.
Regardless of the FBS future of the school, there were plenty of Freshman fireworks from the Bearkats. To go along with the lightning and thunder combination of Stephens and Hrbacek, freshman DB Tobias Weaver scored his first collegiate interception and Trapper Pannel who has seen intermittent time on the field threw for 40 yards and rushed for another 49. The future is bright with this group.
Ezzard Sits Out
Last week, I wondered what happened to Jequez Ezzard in a game where clearly throwing the ball all over the field was less of an option and more of a necessity against Tarleton. After I published that, many fans who were at the game seemed to hint that Ezzard may have been nursing a nagging injury as he was seen stretching and seemingly working out sore muscles on the sideline.
This week, Ezzard didn’t dress out but was on the sideline for the Kats’ matchup against Dixie. This, if Ezzard sat out for injury, could be the answer that many of us were looking for relating to his performances this season. The reality is that with the way the Sam Houston receivers have played this season, specifically Cody Chrest, Ezzard may not need to be on the field until the playoffs. Eastern Kentucky will be far from a cakewalk, but may not necessitate Ezzard being in the game unless things don’t go well early.
Speaking of injury, with about 2:00 remaining in the first half, Eric Schmid was escorted to the locker room by a member of the Sam Houston medical staff. KC Keeler, in his postgame press conference, only mentioned that they, “were able to get Eric off the field early,” and didn’t elaborate. Schmid remained on the field with pads on, but without a helmet, for the rest of the game and was active on the sidelines--a good sign, and hopefully just a precautionary trip to the locker room.
Secondary Keeps Things In Front
Sam’s secondary got torched in a road victory at Tarleton a week before, and KC Keeler made some adjustments for how the defensive backs, specifically the safeties, practiced on the field. Whether that adjustment was the ticket for the secondary still remains to be seen against an efficient Eastern Kentucky team this week.
In the end, though, the Bearkat secondary only gave up 5 explosive plays for 93 yards and a touchdown through the air all game. Two of those plays including the touchdown came in the second half with the result well in hand and the relievers on the field. While we can’t take too much away from that, the fact that the Kats weren’t letting Dixie’s fairly talented receivers behind them is a testament to something going the way of the Kats.
Considering that Kobe Tracy dropped back some 48 times in the game and the Bearkat secondary only gave up 5 plays of 15+ yards, that’s not too bad. Let’s see if they do it again against EKU.
The Playoffs and a Unanimous #1
With Sam taking care of business in only about 15 minutes of work, the rest of the FCS wasn’t so straightforward. In the battle for the Dakota Marker, last season’s National Runners-Up (no, they didn’t make t-shirts), defeated perennial power and cross-border rival North Dakota State 27-19 to knock the Bison out of the #2 ranking and out of an undefeated season. SDSU’s upset of their arch-rival helped Sam Houston become a unanimous #1 in the FCS polls.
Another pseudo-upset over the weekend was #4 Montana State upending #5 Eastern Washington 23-20 in a road contest where the visiting Bobcats limited the electric EWU quarterback Eric Barriere to 214 yards on 21-31 passing (6.9 YPA) with 2 touchdowns.
An upset a little closer to home was Stephen F. Austin’s win against #25 Eastern Kentucky in Nacogdoches 31-17. The Lumberjacks Trae Self went 16-25-1 for 323 yards (12.9 YPA) and 3 touchdowns. Self hit Xavier Gipson for touchdown passes of 34 and 87 yards.
With SFA’s win over EKU, Sam Houston has secured at least a share of the WAC-ASUN Championship (if there is such a thing), can secure the WAC-ASUN auto-bid with a win over EKU on Saturday, and already has secured the WAC Championship with its victory over Dixie. The Kats, with the upset of NDSU, will likely secure the #1 seed in the playoffs by winning this Saturday against EKU and next week on the road at Abilene Christian.