By MALCOLM BUTLER, Lincoln Parish Journal
RUSTON — Louisiana Tech will play its final home game of the 2023 season today when the Bulldogs host a struggling Sam Houston State squad at 2 p.m. at Joe Aillet Stadium.
Today marks the culmination of the university’s 98th homecoming in Ruston, with Tech holding an all-time record of 70-25-2 in homecoming games.
Tech (3-7, 2-4) and Sam Houston (1-8, 0-5) meet for just the fourth time ever with the Bulldogs leading the series 2-0-1. The two programs haven’t met since 1999, a 55-17 win by Tech.
The Bearkats picked up their first win of the season last week with a 24-21 non-conference victory over future CUSA foe Kennesaw State. Sam Houston has lost its share close games this year.
“They are similar to us in terms of their story,” said Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie. “They have lost four of the five games (in CUSA play) by one possession. They lost to Jacksonville State in overtime. They lost to FIU in double overtime. They had a fourth and 19 against FIU and the FIU quarterback ran or 20 yards and that game was over.
“We watched their film all week last week on Liberty and they got down to the three-yard line down 21-16. This is a team that is very very capable a team that has talent and has a lot of players that redshirted last year. They have a lot of experience as they were the national champions at FCS a few years back.”
Bearkats quarterback Keegan Shoemaker has completed 190 of 298 passing attempts this season for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Noah Smith and Malik Phillips are two of the top targets for Shoemaker. Smith is the leading receiver with 61 receptions for 544 yards and five touchdowns, while Phillips has accumulated 389 yards and a touchdown on 30 catches.
Running back John Gentry is the Bearkats’ leading rusher with 284 yards and a touchdown on 87 carries this season. Shoemaker is the second-leading rusher with 160 yards on 67 carries.
Defensively, linebacker Trevor Williams is one of the leading tacklers nationally, ranking ninth in the FBS with 100 tackles, including a team-leading 5.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.
The Bulldogs are out of bowl contention following their loss at Liberty last Saturday, but Cumbie said the team’s goal hasn’t changed.
“It is still the same goal as far as being the best version of ourselves,” said Cumbie. “Being the best version of ourselves for four quarters.
“No matter if you are winning or losing there is still different challenges. It is not a take your ball and go home approach. It is an approach to do your absolute best every single day because when they leave here whether they continue to play or become a husband or father whether they work there is going to be a lot of really good seasons and celebrations but there is going to be a lot of really hard challenges and you have to wake up each day and show up and take those challenges head on which we are not afraid to do.”
Online on the Louisiana Tech Athletics app and on the LA Tech Radio Network, the game will be broadcast by Malcolm Butler (PxP), Teddy Allen (Color) and Jerry Byrd (sideline). The game can be seen on ESPN+.