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2022 marks the 96th edition of The Battle of the Piney Woods, the annual football game between Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. The Texas schools play in the oldest FCS college football rivalry in the state and with such history, there have been several fantastic games.
Here are nine iconic games from Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston’s rivalry on the gridiron, with a brief synopsis of the series.
The two schools, both named for Texas heroes, are less than 100 miles apart. The rivalry dates back to 1923, and the only thing that’s stopped the Lumberjacks and Bearkats from playing on the gridiron has been World War II (1942-45) and the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).
Sam Houston leads the all-time series 58-35-2, entering 2022 with a 10-game winning streak over Stephen F. Austin, the longest for any team in series history. The Bearkats have dominated the series in the 21st century, winning 15 of the 18 matchups, although the Lumberjacks did win consecutive games in 2009 and 2010.
Previously in the rivalry’s history, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin have met in a season-ending battle and on Thanksgiving day (10 times), before its current mid-season meeting status. Since 2010, The Battle of the Piney Woods has been held at a neutral site at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Sam Houston leads all neutral site meetings with a 7-1-1 series record.
Overall, the series has followed the Bearkats and Lumberjacks across four conferences — the Lone Star, Gulf Star, Southland and WAC — yet Sam Houston’s soon-to-be move to the FBS will separate the two schools, creating uncertainty for the future of the matchup.
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The first game on the list is well… the first game. On Nov. 17, 1923, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston met on the gridiron for the first time. It’s reported that the average weight of the players in the first-ever Battle of the Piney Woods was 151 pounds, a weight that’s almost assuredly too small for any player in the present day. On the field, Stephen F. Austin won the first contest, winning 19-6.
In 1976, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston met twice in one year. The first game was played Sept. 11 at a neutral site in the Astrodome. The game ended in a 14-14 tie.
Two months later on Nov. 20, the Lumberjacks and Bearkats met in Nacogdoches, the home of Stephen F. Austin. The game was close again, but this time Sam Houston prevailed with an 8-7 victory.
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Sam Houston entered 1986’s contest with a two-game winning streak over Stephen F. Austin. This year, the Bearkats hosted the Lumberjacks for the first time in the new Bearkat Stadium (renamed Elliott T. Bowers Stadium). On the field, the game was a back-and-forth affair, with Stephen F. Austin pulling ahead 26-21 with 7:51 to play. However, Sam Houston cut the lead to three with 1:05 to play after a bad snap on a Lumberjack punt went out of the end zone.
From there, it took Sam Houston three plays, 31 seconds and 60 yards to score the game-winning touchdown as quarterback Reggie Lewis battled through injury to find tight end Ricky Eggleston for a 39-yard score. The late comeback earned Sam Houston the nickname “Kardiac Kats.”
Here’s how then Sam Houston head coach Ron Randleman described the game-winning catch, “He beat double coverage with a diving catch that has to be one of the best ever by a Sam Houston tight end.” It was a catch that put the date Nov. 8, 1986, into Bearkat history
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On October 19, 2002, Stephen F. Austin scheduled Sam Houston for its homecoming night game. The Lumberjacks started homecoming strong, shutting out the Bearkats for the first three quarters, holding a 7-0 lead.
The fourth quarter was a different story as Sam Houston scored 10 fourth-quarter points to win the game, thanks to Maurice Harris’ go-ahead two-yard touchdown run with 6:36 left.
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Stephen F. Austin needed a fourth-quarter comeback of its own Oct. 16, 2003, trailing Sam Houston 31-24 entering the fourth quarter. The comeback began when the Lumberjacks tied the game with 2:11 left to play after an 11-yard touchdown run from Cliff Edwards. Stephen F. Austin’s defense then forced a three-and-out and a punt on the next Sam Houston possession.
The Lumberjacks received the ball at their own 42-yard line with 1:21 left on the clock. In six plays, 22 yards and 1 minute and 20 seconds, Stephen F. Austin drove into field-goal range, with kicker Ryan Rossner making a 54-yard game-winning kick to win the game 34-31.
MORE: These are the 15 oldest rivalries in college football
Four quarters weren’t enough on Nov. 11, 2008, when the Battle of the Piney Woods came around. While Sam Houston jumped out to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter, Stephen F. Austin fought back with 17 unanswered points. No set of points was bigger than quarterback Jeremy Moses’ 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Duane Brooks with 18 seconds to play to force overtime.
In the first extra period, Sam Houston scored a touchdown first, then Stephen F. Austin responded to force a second overtime. The Lumberjacks got the ball first in the second overtime, but were unable to score after a bad snap and a sack put them behind the sticks. When Sam Houston got the ball, all it needed was a field goal to win the game, but after kicker Taylor Wilkins missed a 32-yard attempt earlier in the game, nothing was guaranteed. However, Wilkins lined up from 28 yards out and drilled the game-winning kick — his first game-winner of his career — to give Sam Houston the 34-31 double-overtime win.
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Oct. 24, 2009, was the last time the Battle of the Piney Woods was played on the campus of either Sam Houston or Stephen F. Austin, with the Lumberjacks hosting the game. Sam Houston entered the contest without its starting quarterback and it showed all game to the tune of just 186 yards of total offense. Stephen F. Austin took advantage of the weakened Bearkats, jumping out to a 35-0 lead entering the fourth quarter. By the game’s end, the Lumberjacks won 42-3, ending a losing streak that stretched back to 2003.
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Oct. 23, 2010, marked the 85th edition of the Battle of Piney Woods. It was the first time the rivalry would play out inside Houston’s NRG Stadium. Stephen F. Austin jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead before Sam Houston responded with 14 points of its own in the second quarter. Yet by halftime, the Lumberjacks scored again, entering the half with a 21-14 lead.
Stephen F. Austin struck again to open the third quarter to go up by 14 points. That would be enough for the Lumberjacks to hold off the Bearkats for what ended up a 31-28 win. In the win, Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns to become the Southland’s all-time career leader in total offense.
Oct. 2, 2021, marked the Battle of the Piney Woods with a defending FCS national champion as Sam Houston won the title the prior spring. The Bearkats also entered with a 14-game winning streak. Yet, as with any rivalry, prior accomplishments can be thrown out.
Stephen F. Austin jumped out on Sam Houston early, grabbing a 13-0 lead in the second quarter and a 20-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. Sam Houston struggled without its All-American quarterback Eric Schmid and it wasn’t until 9:08 left to play in the fourth quarter that Sam Houston scored its first touchdown to cut the score to 20-14. Then, with 2:37 remaining, the Bearkats took the lead.
However, the game wasn’t over as Stephen F. Austin only needed a field goal to win. The Lumberjacks drove the ball down the field and with a 4th-and-5 with 46 seconds remaining lined up for a chance to win the game. Kicker Chris Campos attempted a 51-yarder, but it was wide right giving Sam Houston its 10th-straight win.
WIDE RIGHT!! NO GOOD!! KATS WIN!!#EatEmUpKats #BOTPW pic.twitter.com/CcxDLq6bPX
🏈FCS FOOTBALL HISTORY🏈
🏆 Championships: Championship history | Winningest teams | Schools with the most titles
🥇 Awards: Walter Payton | Buck Buchanan | Jerry Rice
🔥 2021 award winners: Eric Barriere | Isaiah Land | Shedeur Sanders
🤯 FCS-over-FBS upsets: All-time history | Upset blueprint
✊ HBCU: Championship history | Greatest individual players
🐐 Careers in review: Kupp | Wentz | Lance | Garappolo | Heinicke | Leonard | Watson
👀 Top-5 all-time players: North Dakota State | Montana | Eastern Washington | Harvard | Yale | Villanova | Delaware
⚔️ Rivalries: The Game | The Rivalry | Brawl of the Wild | Dakota Marker | Florida Classic | Bayou Classic | Oldest rivalries
🏟 STADIUMS: The 25 biggest FCS stadiums | The 10 oldest stadiums
😱 RECORDS: 7 unbreakable FCS records | The longest CFB field goal
Stan Becton joined NCAA.com in 2021 and has since served as an FCS, track and field, cross country and HBCU beat reporter. He has covered numerous NCAA championship events, including the FCS Championship, DI Track & Field Championships and Men’s Frozen Four. Additionally, he covered the 2021 Celebration Bowl. Stan graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, earning a degree in Professional Writing and playing football as a five-year letterman. You can follow him on Twitter @stan_becton.
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