By BILL PETERSON
From out of nowhere, the Texas State defense turned up a dominating performance against the country’s most prolific offense Saturday afternoon, keying the Bobcats’ 28-7 win against visiting Stephen F. Austin at Bobcat Stadium.
The victory put Texas State into a four-way tie on top of the Southland Conference, while dropping SFA into that tie. The Bobcats, Lumberjacks, McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana are all tied at 3-1 in the league.
With a loss, the Bobcats (5-3 overall) would have faced a very steep climb to defend their league championship with Central Arkansas, McNeese State and Sam Houston State on the docket. Now, the Bobcats are in position to defend that title, if they can win those final three games and somebody beats Southeastern Louisiana.
“The only thing it means is that the next game is more important,” said senior defensive end Travis Houston, whose whereabouts had been something of a mystery before he showed up Saturday with five tackles (including one for loss), a sack, an interception and four quarterback hurries. “It’s going to be that way for the rest of the year.”
SFA entered Bobcat Stadium as the clear Southland Conference front-runner, 6-1 overall with league wins in pocket against McNeese State and Central Arkansas. The Lumberjacks started the day averaging 477.2 yards of offense per game behind a quarterback, Jeremy Moses, who was fourth in the country with 323 yards per game. The Lumberjacks were in the top 15 of both national Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) polls, leading the FCS in scoring (44.4 points per game) and passing (360.3 yards per game). The Bobcat were giving up 406.3 yards per game, including 225.4 in the air.
More ominously, the Bobcats had only sacked the quarterback ten times before Saturday, and SFA had only been sacked five times.
That statistic, alone, illustrates the meaning of Saturday’s events. The Bobcats were only credited officially with one sack Saturday, but they put persistent pressure on Moses, often enough forcing him out of the pocket for no gain or dragging him down behind the line after he had given up on passing and looked for room to run. In the end, the Bobcats registered eight quarterback hurries, one of which directly led to a key interception. Moses ended the game with 244 passing yards and 260 total yards, 100 less than his average.
“We didn’t blitz maybe a handful of times,” Wright said. “It was just the four guys up front … I talked to every defensive lineman sometime during the last week and said, ‘The game is in your hands.'”
The Texas State defensive effort especially showed in the second half, when SFA’s powerful attack gained only 173 yards. After SFA came close to scoring three times and produced no points in the first half, the Lumberjacks scored a touchdown on their first try of the second half and thereafter never made an appearance in the red zone.
Texas State started the game strong, never wavered, and sealed the game with two touchdowns in the final four minutes to break open an afternoon of endless plot turns between the goal lines. For every play in which a ball carrier outworked a tackler to break free for more yardage, there was another play in which a ball carrier found open field only for a tackler to arrive from nowhere.
“It was one of those where offensively we kept punching, defensively we kept punching, and some of those punches started landing late in the game,” Texas State head coach Brad Wright said.
The Bobcats set a tone early, holding SFA to three-and-out off the opening kickoff, then holding SFA to another three-and-out in its next possession. In between, the Texas State offense fashioned a nine-play, 67-yard touchdown drive with five rushes and four passes. Quarterback Bradley George finished it off with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Mishak Rivas, giving the Bobcats a 7-0 lead.
The Bobcats drove to a field-goal attempt on their next possession, but Ryan Batchelor was wide right from 44 yards. The regular Texas State kicker, Justin Garelick, injured his plant knee in practice during the week after making two fourth-quarter field goals at Northwestern State the previous Saturday to win Southland Conference special teams player of the week.
Taking over at its own 28, SFA ripped all the way to the Texas State five without facing so much as a third down. But Houston hurried Moses into an incompletion on third and one from the five, then SFA kicker Evan Engwall missed a 22-yard field goal attempt.
The second quarter was characterized by frustration for SFA. On its four possessions of the second quarter, SFA constantly came up short, mostly because the Texas State defense made plays.
First, Engwall missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. On SFA’s next possession, the Lumberjacks ripped from their own 25 to the Texas State one. Again, Houston pressured Moses into an incomplete pass, this time with fourth and goal at the one.
Next, SFA took over at its own 27, still down, 7-0, and blasted to the Texas State 17 in nine plays. But Texas State linebacker Joe Bell forced a fumble from SFA running back Romont Hampton and the Bobcats’ Marcus Clark recovered at the 11.
SFA took one more crack from its own 47 with 17 seconds left, but two Bobcats slammed Moses as he threw, making his pass downfield short enough to set up a Matt Harris interception at the Texas State 17.
SFA dominated the first half between the goal lines, outgaining the Bobcats 243 yards to 174 yards before intermission. But the Texas State defense, especially Houston, made huge plays when anything less would have resulted in SFA scores.
“He’s a senior, he was elected captain, and he’d better go out and make some plays, and that’s what he did,” Wright said of Houston.
SFA tied the game right out of the gate in the third quarter, when Moses completed all five of his passes on a 65-yard drive that ended with his 11-yard touchdown pass to Duane Brooks.
The Bobcats responded by moving only 25 yards to their own 49. But punter Ben Follis made the field position matter with a splendid, high-arching, 49-yard punt angling to cross the right sideline at the SFA two. Brooks fielded the kick on the sideline and found nothing but tacklers, going down at the six.
Moses escaped a sack in the end zone on first down, but his third down pass down the right sideline was met simultaneously by Brooks and Bobcat cornerback Will Thompson. The ball bounced away from those two contestants and into the hands of Houston, who returned the interception seven yards to the SFA 35.
Not long after, George threw 21 yards over the middle to Rivas at the three. Two plays later, George found Alvaro Garcia for an eight-yard touchdown pass in the left side of the end zone, giving the Bobcats a 14-7 lead with 16 seconds left in the third period.
From that point, SFA couldn’t find its way offensively. On its next possession, Houston ran Moses out of the pocket on third-and-16 and dropped him after a one-yard gain to force a punt. On SFA’s next possession after that, Moses moved his team to the Texas State 26 before Houston sacked him for an eight-yard loss on fourth-and-four.
The Texas State offense took that hint and rolled to a touchdown. The drive didn’t come off perfectly, as the Bobcats reached the 11, only for Rivas to lose nine yards around left and the Darius Bolden to be flagged for a personal foul on the same play. But the Bobcats recovered on third-and-31, when George threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Rivas to make it 21-7 with 3:58 left in the game.
After SFA failed on a desperation fourth-down at its own 21, the Bobcats regained the ball with 2:15 left. George completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Da’Marcus Griggs on fourth down, sealing a huge win.
George outdueled Moses, completing 31 of 42 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. As the Texas State running game produced only 52 yards in 32 carries, George worked the middle of the field almost at will to keep the offense moving.
“They weren’t going to let us have anything deep,” George said. “We knew going in that we were going to have to take the short game.”
With his 324 passing yards and five rushing yards Saturday, George is almost certain to overtake Barrick Nealey as Texas State’s all-time leader in career total offense next week. George is up to 8,896 career yards, compared with 8,933 for Nealey.
George is up to 2,248 offensive yards this year, fifth all time at Texas State. He already has passed his 2007 total of 2,180.
With George at the top of his game and the defense playing as it hasn’t played in years, the Bobcats were the conquerors, for a day, at least. They brought down SFA as no one in the league had been able. But nobody is a true conqueror in this league until the year is finished.
“At about 2:30 (Sunday afternoon), this one doesn’t mean anything,” Wright said.
That’s when the Bobcats return to work on a job that’s three weeks from completion. Next Saturday, they go to Central Arkansas.Email | Print