HOUSTON, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks staked themselves to an early lead in the annual Battle of the Piney Woods, but dug too deep of a hole to climb out of as the No. 9 Sam Houston State Bearkats held off an SFA rally to walk out of Reliant Stadium with a 51-43 victory.
Brady Attaway threw for a career best 545 yards and six touchdowns, but completed just 39 of 76 passes and had a pair of costly interceptions, including one in the second quarter returned by Bookie Sneed for a Sam Houston record 92-yard touchdown that put the Bearkats up 20-14 late in the first half. SFA (2-4, 1-1 SLC) outgained Sam Houston (3-2, 1-1 SLC) 566-396, but had a pair of turnovers and allowed 228 rushing yards to the `Kats, including 125 to all-America running back Tim Flanders.
The loss did not overshadow the effort of wide receiver Cordell Roberson who hauled in 14 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns, equaling his career high in scores while setting new career bests in receptions and receiving yards.
The Lumberjacks made things interesting late with three of the final four scores of the game, including consecutive touchdown throws to Roberson in the final 11 minutes to pull within eight points. The SFA defense then stepped up after that with a stop of the Bearkat offense, giving the SFA offense the ball on its own 15-yard line with just 3:10 left in the game. The `Jacks advanced all the way down to the SHSU 30-yard line before the Bearkat defense came up with the stop they needed to hold on to the game.
Sam Houston quarterback Brian Bell finished the game with 168 yards through the air and three touchdowns to three different receivers, but also did damage on the ground with eight rushes for 69 yards the final two scores of the night for SHSU. Neither of those scores was more important than in the third quarter when he rose up and rushed in from one yard out on a fake field goal that pushed the Bearkat lead to its peak at 44-21 with 5:10 remaining in the period.
SFA responded with a three-play drive of its own that ended in a 70-yard touchdown pass from Attaway to Roberson, setting up an entertaining fourth quarter.
DJ Ward was right behind Roberson in receiving with six catches for 129 yards and a 77-yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter. Ryan Gambel and De'Vante Lacy also got into the end zone, with seven separate SFA receivers hauling in a pass.
SFA dominated the first quarter of play, holding the `Kats to just 22 total yards, none of which came through the air, while piling up 111 of their own in taking a 7-3 lead. The Bearkats used the opening kickoff to set up their first points of the day, getting 69 yards on a return from Keshawn Hill down to the SFA 25-yard line. SFA's defense did not allow a first down, though, forcing SHSU to settle for 39-yard field goal from Miguel Antonio.
SFA forced a pair of turnovers and converted each into points on touchdowns to Gambel and Lacy, putting SFA up 14-3 before the `Kats responded with 20 unanswered points that were aided by a blocked field goal and a crucial interception return by Bookie Sneed for a 92-yard touchdown that swung the momentum to Sam Houston's favor, giving them a 20-14 lead.
The `Jacks next get the week off before taking on Nicholls on Oct. 20 at Homer Bryce Stadium.