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SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Sam Houston State claims at least a share of the Southland Conference title as the Bearkats bid adieu; Northwestern State stuns Incarnate Word

In a bid to make a run at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national title in the unprecedented spring college football season, fourth-ranked Sam Houston State remained undefeated with a hard-fought 27-13 victory over upset-minded McNeese State at Huntsville’s Bowers Stadium last Saturday.

In the process, the Bearkats (5-0) clinched at least a share of the Southland Conference title and moved a step closer to earning the conference champion’s coveted automatic bid to the FCS national playoffs.

While 19th-ranked Incarnate Word hoped to stay in contention going into its regular season finale showdown against Sam Houston State, winless Northwestern State shocked the Cardinals with a thrilling 49-47 upset victory.

Elsewhere in the Southland Conference, the 23rd-ranked Southeastern Louisiana Lions (3-2) kept their hopes of earning one of the six at-large bids to the FCS postseason with a 52-45 home win over Nicholls State in the River Bell Classic.

SAM HOUSTON STATE 27, MCNEESE STATE 13

HUNTSVILLE – Seeking the school’s first national football title, the fourth-ranked Sam Houston State Bearkats clinched at least a share of the Southland Conference championship for the first time since 2017 as quarterback Eric Schmid led a 27-13 victory McNeese State at Bower’s Stadium last Saturday.

Despite falling behind 3-0 early, the Bearkats (5-0) scored 27 unanswered points to take control of the game midway through the third quarter. Sam Houston State overcame three turnovers with stout defensive stands to setup a showdown with Incarnate Word for the outright conference crown on April 17 in San Antonio.

Breaking off the longest run of his career, Schmid broke loose for a 64-yard run to set up running back Donovan Williams’ two-yard touchdown plunge as the Bearkats built a comfortable 27-3 lead over the Cowboys (3-4) midway through the third quarter.

Schmid threw for 202 yards and a touchdown while rushed for another 92 yards. Jequez Ezzard led Sam Houston with 87 yards receiving and 135 all-purpose yards, while wide receiver Noah Smith hauled in four passes for 48 yards and a score.

With Sam Houston State departing the Southland Conference for the Western Athletic Conference this summer, the Bearkats stand on the verge of reclaiming the mantle of supremacy. From 2011-17, Sam Houston State qualified to the FCS playoffs seven straight seasons, advancing to the semifinals or finals five times.

The Bearkats need to finish the regular season portion of their spring schedule undefeated to ensure a top seed, and a home game, for the playoffs as Sam Houston State seeks to win the school’s first FCS national title at Toyota Stadium in Frisco on May 16.

NORTHWESTERN STATE 49, INCARNATE WORD 47

SAN ANTONIO – Standing on the brink of setting up a classic showdown for the Southland Conference title, 14th-ranked Incarnate Word saw it all slip away in the final seconds last Saturday at Gayle & Tom Benson Stadium.

Needing to win their final two games to ensure a share of the Southland Conference title and an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs and hosting both of them at home, the Cardinals appeared to secure the showdown when Cameron Ward found Darion Chafin wide open for a 34-yard touchdown with 55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

But the previously winless Northwestern State Demons immediately drove down the field in four plays covering 58 yards to set up a last-second field 32-yard field goal from Eddie Godina, setting off a wild Demon celebration and handing Incarnate Word a heartbreaking 49-47 loss.

Incarnate Word running back Kevin Brown scored a career-high three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the loss that could cost the Cardinals a chance at earning an at-large berth in the FCS playoffs.

Brown’s three-touchdown effort marked the first time a Cardinal has scored three rushing touchdowns in a single game since Keyondrick Philio’s three against Abilene Christian in 2019, and it tied for second-best in UIW history. Brown rushed for 160 yards, marking the fourth game he has rushed for over 100 yards.

Cardinal quarterback Cameron Ward threw for over 400 yards for the third consecutive game by completing 33 of 59 passes for 431 yards. With the two touchdown passes, Ward tied the single-season record for touchdown passes.

Defensively, Gerald Bowie III led the Cardinals with eight tackles, a blocked PAT, one fumble recovery and recorded one solo sack for a loss of seven yards.

Photos courtesy of SAM HOUSTON STATE ATHLETICS & INCARNATE WORD ATHLETICS

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