Bowers Stadium will be shaking tonight when the Bearkats (1-4) take the field against long-time foe Stephen F. Austin (4-2) to renew the Texas classic,”Battle of the Piney Woods.” The annual battle will rekindle a rivalry that has stretched over eight decades.
Last year the Lumberjacks hosted the battle and came into the game ranked 23rd in Division I-AA football. The Kats went scoreless through the first three quarters but got the opportunity to play spoilers to SFA’s homecoming game.
The Bearkat defense was able to hold the Lumberjack offense to only seven points all day. SHSU rallied back in the forth, led by an interception by the defense and won the game 10-7 in a surprising upset. The win marked the third straight against the conference opponent.
“Historically, it has been a hard fought battle, regardless of the records,” said SFA alumni and current Bearkat offensive coordinator James Ferguson.
“Nobody likes us over there, we don’t like them over here. I don’t know why that is, but it was taught to me when I was over there.”
To add to the hype for tonight’s game, Fox Sports Television will be on hand with cameras broadcasting the game to six other states. Two years ago the “Battle of the Piney Woods” put up the biggest ratings ever for a Southland Conference game. The rivalry has lasted over eighty years and is also one of the oldest in Texas Division I-AA football.
“This is a big, big rivalry game,” said head coach Ron Randleman. “It’s always big. It’s the start of conference play too, this is always one of importance.”
In January of 2000, Ferguson, the one time Lumberjack assistant coach, was added to the SHSU coaching staff as the offensive coordinator. He is yet to lose to his old school. He joked about his conversations with the SFA staff, saying that “they pump him for information,” and that he gladly “tells them lies,” but, “that they keep it cordial.”
The Bearkats are coming off their fourth consecutive loss after winning their first game impressively. Randleman said that he expects to see a massive running attack from the Lumberjacks. Last week SFA threw the ball only 11 times in a 35-13 win. They put the ball on the ground 56 times, gaining 337 yards.
“We have got to correct a lot of mistakes in many facets of the game,” said Randleman. “We have got to be prepared for the run, the option and a running quarterback. We haven’t faced one yet this year.”
Offensively, the Bearkats have struggled. Whether it has been turnovers, penalties or lack of consistency, they have had trouble getting things started. Last week they showed signs of promise after starting true freshman Wade Pate at quarterback. Ferguson said that he would approach tonight’s “Battle of the Piney Woods” similar to the way they did last year.
“Our plan is a lot like last season. We want to keep it close and try to win it in the fourth again,” said Ferguson. “As long as we don’t turnover the ball, we can win. The offense has underachieved so far this season. On any given day you have got to come out playing, we did that in the first week. Now we have to try to do it again.”
With the season at the half way point, conference play starts tonight with the perfect game. The Kats will fight for bragging rights and much more as the stage is set for the legendary “Battle of the Piney Woods” against the SFA Lumberjacks. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.