The 82nd annual match-up between the Sam Houston State Bearkats and the Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks, known as the “Battle of the Piney Woods,” is here once again. In a repeat of last season, the venue is Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches on Saturday.
Before the season began, both SFA (0-7, 0-3 SLC), and SHSU (3-4 overall, 1-2 SLC) were expected to contend for the Southland Conference championship. In the pre-season coaches poll, SFA was picked to finish second and SHSU third. In the Sports Information Directors poll, the Bearkats were picked second with the Lumberjacks tabbed for third.
Yet as the course of the season panned out through the first eight weeks, both teams have struggled, and it appears as though the Lumberjacks and the Kats are headed in different directions.
One week after coming out on the short end of a 31-21 decision to the then No. 6-ranked McNeese State Cowboys (7-0, 3-0 SLC) in Lake Charles, the Bearkats won their homecoming game 42-20 against the Northwestern State Demons (3-4, 2-2 SLC).
For the Lumberjacks, it has been a different story altogether. This has been a season to forget as SFA has lost every contest, including their home opener against the Div. II Tarleton State Texans 27-24 in overtime, without any sign of improving.
The Lumberjacks’ game last Saturday between the two Southland schools without a conference win, offered the Jacks a legitimate shot at notching their first victory and the chance for a launching point into the game against SHSU. But the Texas State Bobcats (2-5, 1-2 SLC) dominated SFA on the ground with 447 rushing yards en route to a 52-29 victory.
While this rivalry game will be for bragging rights between the two schools, it will also be for much more.
For SFA, it will be to salvage a season and to earn a victory over the Bearkats.
For the Kats, a play-off birth is still possible. To even think about that, SHSU needs to win the rest of their games. The Kats would also need McNeese State to lose at least three out of their remaining four games.
Sam Houston State ranks second in the conference in pass offense with 1,858 yards, while the Lumbjeracks follow in third with 1,631 yards. Yet the Bearkats have only allowed 7 interceptions while SFA has given up a conference-high 13 interceptions on the season.
On defense, the Kats stand in seventh place in the SLC in both passing and rushing defense, while the Lumberjacks second in pass defense and eighth in rushing defense.
Individually, Sam Houston State has several players near the top of the conference standings. Chris Poullard ranks fourth in overall rushing in the SLC with 99 carries for 590 yards, and Rhett Bomar ranks second in passing at 147 for 255 for 1,799 yards and 10 touchdowns. Bearkat tight end is tied for second in the SLC in receiving with 36 receptions for 405 yards.
Kickoff from Homer Bryce Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.