Suspensions leave Sam Houston short-handed for pivotal Southland game

(STATS) - Sam Houston State's dynamic offense will have a little less power for the most anticipated Southland Conference game of the season.

The seventh-ranked Bearkats' leading rusher and top receiver are suspended for Saturday night's visit to No. 9 McNeese State, which will rely on its stingy defense to clinch a playoff spot.

Sam Houston junior running back Jalen Overstreet is out for this weekend's game while senior receiver LaDarius Brown might have to sit for the rest of the regular season after both were reportedly arrested Tuesday night. The two players were charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Overstreet has 586 yards and four touchdowns while Brown has 33 catches for 510 yards and five TDs in their second seasons with the program. Brown played two seasons at TCU until an arrest for marijuana possession in February 2014, and Texas coach Charlie Strong dismissed Overstreet for a violation of team rules in July 2014.

The Bearkats might have enough depth, however, to overcome their missing players. They have four other rushers with at least 46 carries and 245 yards as well as three other receivers with at least 24 catches and 230 yards.

Gerald Thomas and Yedidiah Louis have each topped 400 yards receiving. Cory Avery has rushed for 549 and seven TDs.

That bevy of options is why Sam Houston (6-2, 5-1) is second in the FCS with 46.4 points and 549.3 yards per game. The Bearkats had 555 yards in a 38-24 win over Division II Texas A&M-Commerce this past Saturday, their sixth in a row.

"They've appeared to have really hit their stride," McNeese coach Matt Viator said. "If you go back and look at their last four or five games, they've seemed to have really gotten better and improved. They're really playing well."

Avery had 125 yards and three TDs while Overstreet ran for 99 yards and one score. Brown recorded just two catches for 30 yards.

The absences of those two players could make it easier on McNeese (8-0, 7-0), among three unbeaten FCS teams, to clinch the Southland's automatic bid and at least a share of its first conference title since 2009.

The Cowboys haven't looked at best at times in the past four weeks and had a season-high five turnovers last weekend at Abilene Christian. McNeese, though, allowed the Wildcats to convert those miscues into only six points in a 15-13 victory.

The Cowboys also needed fourth-quarter outbursts to put away Central Arkansas and Northwestern State in back-to-back weeks last month.

McNeese's top-rated rush defense (67.9 yards per game) yielded 27 last weekend - minus-4 in the second half. The Cowboys are giving up an average of 25.5 yards on the ground in the final two quarters this season.

They also rank in the top five with 10.9 points and 281.5 yards allowed per game.

"It's going to be a great battle. Their defense is as good as any I've seen for a while," Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said. "It'll be a good matchup with our offense."

McNeese also has a top-20 rushing attack (213.5 yards) that's led by Ryan Ross and quarterback Daniel Sams, while averaging 32.0 points.

The Bearkats have taken three of the last four matchups, and quarterback Jared Johnson had a hand in four of his team's five TDs in a 38-22 victory last season. His two scoring runs accounted for 140 of his career-best 190 yards on the ground.

Johnson shared snaps with sophomore Jeremiah Briscoe earlier this year but has seen more playing time in the past three games.

Sam Houston is expected to have center Zachary Stevens back from an appendectomy as it tries for just its third win in 15 road games as an FCS opponent. Starting defensive backs Mikell Everette and Trenier Orr will also likely return after being involved in a car accident before last week's game.

A Bearkats win would open the door for them to secure the Southland's automatic bid with ensuing victories over Northwestern State and at Central Arkansas.

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Lamar's Kade Harrington, the program's single-season rushing leader, can claim a couple more records this weekend.

With 1,550 yards, Harrington is 133 shy of tying the Southland season mark. Stephen F. Austin's Gus Johnson set that last year in 13 games, but Harrington could do it in nine.

Harrington also needs 199 all-purpose yards for the Cardinals' career record. He's had at least 199 in each of the six conference games.

The junior can also extend his school-record streak of 100-yard rushing performances to seven Saturday night against Nicholls State.

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