Photo by Hardy Meredith, SFA Athletics
Stephen F. Austin Football

Lumberjacks late game struggles leads to ninth consecutive loss in the 94th BOTPW

October 5, 2019
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HOUSTON- Since the 2011 college football season the SFA Lumberjacks have lost to their fair share of games. Many of their losses came as a surprise and many losses came as expected, but the one loss they’ve suffered for eight years straight came at the hands of the Sam Houston State University Bearkats. As the losses piled up aganist SHSU, the Lumberjacks waited for the day they could finally end their dreadful losing streak aganist arguably their most hated opponent in their prestigious program history. Unfortunately, the losing streak continued during the 94th edition of the Battle of the Piney Woods after SFA fell short of the Bearkats 31-20 Saturday evening on the turf of NRG Stadium in Houston. 

One key reason to SFA’s recent history of losing during this annual matchup was their inabilty to control the Bearkats’ passing game. In recent history, the Bearkats have thrown all over the Lumberjacks right of the gate, which almost took the life completely out of the Lumberjacks before the game even got started. This year, the Lumberjacks smartly made it their business to key in on the Bearkat passing game from the first snap which gave them a great advantage put the game in their control. 

The Lumberjacks found themselves in a defensive battle early in the fourth quarter. They trailed 17-13 with the Bearkats threatening to score again until Eli Jones, cornerback decided to make the defensive play of the game. SFA was defending the Bearkats in zone coverage and Jones played his particular spot to perfection and proceeded to step directly in front of the intended reciever, intercepted the pass and ran 28 yards untouched for a touchdown. Jones secured his second pick-six of the season and gave SFA an 20-17 lead with 10:36 left in the game. The score shifted all the monmentum in the favor of SFA and it appeared that they would find a way to hold on for the win after the huge play by Jones.

However, the Bearkats’ experience on the field and from the sideline set in and they went on to score 14 consecutive points to end the Jacks’ hopes of winning their first game against the Bearkats since the 2010 season. Ty Brock, quarterback, led Sam down the field and hit his seasoned wide receiver, Nathan Stewart, for the 45-yard touchdown connection putting the Bearkats ahead 24-20. With under seven minutes left in the game, the Lumberjacks started to feel the pressure to make a play, but they consistently made the wrong plays at the wrong time. Trae Self, quarterback, had the ball in his hands on the SFA 18-yard line when he fumbled the ball after being sacked. The fumble rolled into the hands of the Bearkats and they quickly answered three plays later with a score from their running back Donovan Williams. His score bumped the Bearkats’ lead to 11 and that’s where it would stay after Self threw his third interception of the night attemtping to force a pass downfield on their next possession.

Here’s three takeways from the Lumberjacks loss to the SHSU Bearkats. 

1. Turnovers

SFA turned the ball over six times throughout the game and that key stat alone was the difference in this game. SFA left numerous potential points on the board by not handling the ball effectively. Xavier Gipson, freshman wide receiver, caught six passes for 97 yards, but fumbled twice after the catch. He would’ve had 100-plus yards receiving if it wasn’t for those two turnovers. 

SFA can’t beat any team turning the ball over six times, but they especially couldn’t expect to defeat their hated rival by basically handing them free possessions repeatedly during the game. The Jacks had three interceptions courtesy of Self and three fumbles with Self adding one of those to his stat line for the day. Most if not all of the Jacks’ turnovers came from them attempting to make the big play instead of just doing enough to move the chains. This game was nip and tuck until the last five minutes of the game, so it was no reason to try and force the issue with high risk, low reward plays when both the offensive and defensive units put themselves in postions to be successful against Sam. SFA was in this game the entire way and the turnovers at the most unfortunate times plagued them from possibly winning this game.

Turnovers were a momentum killer and a back breaker for the Lumberjacks and even though the Bearkats committed three turnovers of their own, six turnovers is more than three and the Bearkats took full advantage of the Jacks’ blunders while SFA failed to fully capitalize on Sams’ blunders while being hindered by their own self-made blunders. 

2. Trae Self’s struggles

The long-awaited return of Tamrick Pace, senior wide receiver, aided Self and the Lumberjacks in numerous ways early in the game. Pace caught 6 passes for 63 yards and electricfied the crowd with a game opening 45-yard kickoff return that started the Lumberjacks off in great field position. However, as the game progressed, it seemed that Self was forcing passes into heavy traffic and not trusting his abilities which led to the four turnovers he committed on the day. Self threw for 260 yards on 28-52 passing attempts. He threw three interceptions, no touchdowns and was sacked into the turf four times throughout the game.

Early on in the game Self looked comfortable as he’s been this season throwing the ball. He dimed some great passes to Pace including a 42-yard bomb that setup Josh McGowen’s rushing touchdown. Self also hit Gipson and Remi Simmons throughout the game in stride for some effective hookups, but when Self really needed to be effective in the second half, he couldn’t get into a zone. He was consistently under pressure from the hungry Bearkat defensive line and he felt the need to force the issue with his passes because he felt the team needed a big play to stay in the game rather than sticking with the plan that gave them the lead in the beginning. As the season progresses Self will learn how to control his gifted talents, but he can’t expect to be effective when he’s not trusting himself and can’t rely on consistent protection during games of this magnitude.

Despite his turnover heavy performance, Self played at a high level and fought every second he was on the field much to the respect of his teammates and he’s a player the coaching staff can build an offense aroung moving forward. 

3. Experience over Youth 

Pace was the headliner of some of the Lumberjacks’ veteran player who was active for this game. However, SFA still had a huge amount of freshmen starting at numerous positions on both sides of the ball. As the game got to it’s climax in the fourth quarter, it was clear the Bearkats had the upper hand because they had upperclassmen on the field who had been in these types of situations and knew how to handle the pressure of the moment.

The Lumberjacks had the top rated recruiting class in the Southland Conference, but in these types of games, it’s the upperclassmen players that really make a difference and SFA is still missing a large amount of their upperclassmen players for outside reasons. Gipson, who has performed well this season, is a freshman and his two turnovers were freshman mistakes. Self, sophomore quarterback, is still adjusting to this type of stage and many defensive players are in the same situation. So when you have young players on the field during late-game situations aganist players who’ve been seasoned and experienced, it makes the game more difficult for them to adjust and the Lumberjacks struggled late due to their fatigue and inexperience in certain situations. These young guys have grown swiftly since opening night in Waco, but they’ve showed they still have some more growing pains before they can turn the ultimate corner. 

Overall, the Lumberjacks played at a high level with the defense really showing their worth by forcing four turnovers and forcing Brock into making tough plays all throughout the game. SFA has to learn to adjust their gameplan during late-game situations. Most of their losses this season can be accredited to their inefficiency to execute during the fourth quarter and their season could look alot different if they could have been more clean during the waning moments of the game, but as the season goes, this team will learn how to play a complete football game. 

SFA will have a bye week to get healthy and recover from the first six games of the season. After their long two weeks of rehab, game preparation and practice the Lumberjacks will hit the road again for a afternoon matchup with the Abilene Christian University Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Saturday Oct. 19, at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium in Abilene, Texas. 

 

 

 

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Lumberjacks late game struggles leads to ninth consecutive loss in the 94th BOTPW

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