For the second straight week, a long kickoff return turned the tide against NSU, coupled with missed field goals, this time a pair that were partially blocked. Those plays were the biggest reasons Sam Houston (6-2 overall, 2-1 in the Southland Conference) opened a 17-3 halftime lead on the way to a 44-10 whipping of the visiting Demons (3-5, 0-3).
Senior quarterback Brian Bell threw three touchdown passes (17, 44 and 9 yards) and ran for an 18-yard score as Sam Houston rebounded from a loss at McNeese last week. The Bearkats had a pair of three-and-outs and a fourth-down failure in their opening possessions against NSU, but scored on their next seven chances with a 93-yard kickoff runback by Keshawn Hill as the springboard.
“In special teams, it seems if we’ve gotten something fixed, leaks spring up someplace else,” said first-year Demons’ coach Jay Thomas. “Our inside guys didn’t fill the right gaps and it was wide open on the kick return. That hurt right after we had tied the game.”
Hill didn’t score, but All-America running back Timothy Flanders did on the next play from seven yards out for a 10-3 lead 6:58 before halftime.
The Demons drove to no avail on their next two series. Sam Houston defenders deflected field goal s of 37 and 41 yards, and in between, the Bearkats got Bell’s first TD pass to cap an 80-yard drive for a 17-3 advantage.
“A hand came up from the left side on the first one, and the guy on the edge got to the second one,” said Thomas. “They did a good job. But we have to get a nose for that end zone. We’re driving the ball up and down the field and we need to get it to the painted grass.”
Despite rolling up 255 yards in the first two quarters, Northwestern trailed by 14 points at halftime, and Bell’s 44-yard TD pass to Torrance Williams down the NSU sideline on the third play of the second half made it 24-3. The outcome was salted away midway through the third quarter with a 99-yard, 10-play drive as the Bearkats made it 31-3 on Bell’s third touchdown pass, to Chance Nelson.
Sam Houston took command in the third period as it outgained the visitors 199-95 and scored three TDs.
“Look, we’re not that far away,” said Thomas. “We’re taking it to them for most of the first half. We didn’t get the points on the board we should have gotten and against a team like Sam Houston you better cash in every chance you have. Our defense did a heck of a job out of the gate, and had them on their heels a bit, but the kickoff return gave them a second wind. We made mistakes that cost us, and they didn’t.”
The Bearkats had no turnovers (they have only nine in eight games) and were only penalized twice. NSU drew a season-low four flags and lost a fumble.
With any remote chance of competing for the conference title wiped away Saturday, NSU could take solace that three of its four remaining games are at home, beginning next Saturday night against Central Arkansas.
“These guys are playing their guts out and you just have to believe at some point, breaks will come our way. We’ll make some plays, we’ll earn some breaks, and being at home can do nothing but help,” said Thomas.