HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Northwestern State seemed on course to threaten No. 7-ranked Sam Houston State’s FCS-best 19-game homefield winning streak Saturday, until the Bearkats exploited the Demons’ Achilles heel.
For the second straight week a long kickoff return turned the tide against NSU, coupled with missed field goals. 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 win over the 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. The Bearkats had a pair of three-and-outs and a fourth-down failure before scoring 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 7 yards out for a 10-3 lead 6:58 before halftime.
The Demons drove to no avail on their next two series. Sam Houson 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.
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.
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.