Battle of the Piney Woods

It is that time of the year again, when students from Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin rally together for one common cause: to wage war. One of the state’s biggest rivalries travels down the road to Nacogdoches for the 77th annual Battle of the Piney Woods.The Bearkats look for a repeat performance from last season when the team pulled off a 24-21 victory in front of 12,000 Bearkat faithful at Bowers Stadium. SHSU leads the overall series 41-32-2. The Bearkats have had bragging rights for two years, dating back to a 52-41 win the last time the series was played at SFA. SFA comes into the game ranked No. 23 in the country and riding a two-game winning streak. The Lumberjacks have won four of its last five while the Bearkats have lost three of its last four. The game has all the ingredients for a big-time upset in front of SFA’s Homecoming crowd. “I don’t mind it at all going over there,” said Michael Saumell-Baston, junior defensive end. “I like it better because it is their homecoming and we get to play our biggest rival.””Its all about bragging rights,” sophomore linebacker Lance Mutschink said. “We have the chance to go into their house and beat them.”Homer Bryce Stadium should be nicknamed little Bowers Stadium because SHSU has had great success there, compiling an 18-15-1 record. This year might prove to be a different story with the Lumberjacks being undefeated at home.”There is a lot of hate between us because of things that has happened in the past,” said T.J. Dibble, junior linebacker. “We take this game real serious because it’s a big game for us.” For SHSU offensive coordinator James Ferguson and offensive line coach Ben Norton, this weekend’s game might mean a little more than the others. They have both had the chance to witness this great rivalry from both sides of the field. Ferguson and Norton both graduated and played football at SFA. Norton was part of the SFA team that played in the 1989 NCAA Division 1-AA national championship game. “It’s funny if I think back, because I never thought that this would happen,” Norton said about coaching at SHSU. “But when you get into college coaching, you basically become an alumni of where you are coaching at.”Although Norton is now a Bearkat, his most memorable moment in the Battle of the Piney Woods came when he was a player in a 1991 SFA victory.”I remember that they caught us on a down year and we had lost a lot of guys, it was a recruiting year.” Norton said. “Sam Houston was the conference champs. They had a really good team and they came to our place, but we beat them 13-3.”Ferguson has plenty of family and friends that attended SFA and will be at the game on Saturday. “There will be some of them with mixed emotions on who they will pull for.” Ferguson said. “When you go into battle with someone like your brother or real close to you, you want to beat them bad.”Ferguson said that going against people he worked with and people that he loves adds additional pressure because he does not want to get embarrassed by them. “I can remember my first game in college in 1976 when we played Sam Houston in the Astrodome to a tie,” Ferguson said. “It’s always been a great rivalry because there isn’t much difference between the two schools.”Both coaches remember the game two years ago when SHSU traveled to SFA and beat the Lumberjacks.”From a coaching standpoint, my most memorable experience was two years ago, when we went into their Homecoming and hung 50 on them.” Norton said. “The thing that was most memorable in that game was the kickoff return in the second half by Chris Foster; that got our juices going again.””I remember looking into the stands and seeing a wall of orange that had come to support us and I will never forget that.”Ferguson has a little bit different memorable moment from that 2000 Battle of the Piney Woods game. ” Joe Rauls was out for that game; he couldn’t play because on an injury,” Ferguson said. “At halftime, Joe started putting on his uniform and it caught everybody’s attention.” “Here’s Joe, a warrior who can’t play because he was crippled, that was going to war anyway. I get chills every time I think about it.”The game between SHSU and SFA may not grab headlines like the Red River Shootout or the Texas and Texas A& M game, but the players have something to aim for every year going into this battle.Throughout the football offices and locker rooms are signs that simply read: Beat SFA.

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