With the Bearkats trailing archrival SFA 14 - 0 in the first quarter of the Battle of the Piney Woods last season, it looked as if the fourth-ranked Lumberjacks were going to cruise to victory.

But midway through the second quarter, the Kats stormed back. After a Richard Sincere touchdown, Tim Flanders took a handoff from quarterback Brian Bell, cut back across the SFA defense and sprinted 45 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 14.

Immediately after scoring the touchdown, Flanders flashed the "axes down" hand sign that has become popular among SHSU athletes in the Battle of the Piney Woods rivalry. He did the same thing again in the after scoring in the third quarter.

The Kats lost the game 31-28, but Flanders embraced the rivalry like a fifth-year senior.

Truth is, he had been on campus for less than two months. Flanders, who is a sophomore for the 2011 Kats, transferred to SHSU in August of 2010 from Kansas State and didn't have much time to adjust to Huntsville or Bearkat football.

He made his Sam Houston debut only a week after arriving on campus, getting four carries for 40 yards against Baylor.

"It was really hard," Flanders said. "When I moved here it was three days before school started. My first day of practice was the first day of school. We were playing Baylor that first game, and I pretty much just watched. I had a chance to get in the fourth quarter and get a few carries, but that was tough."

Flanders didn't take long to adjust, however. After a much needed week two bye in the schedule, Flanders got the nod against Western Illinois and broke out for 156 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.

He rattled off five more 100-yard rushing games to tie a Sam Houston State record with six consecutive 100-yard or more rushing games, concluding it with the 100-yard effort against the Lumberjacks.

As for embracing the rivalry so quickly, it just kind of happened.

"I didn't know anything about the hand sign thing until the week of the game," Flanders said. "They were telling me every time we scored I had to do it. At first I wasn't going to, but then I said if I scored I would do it the first time. From there, I saw it was something everyone was doing."

"As for the game itself, it was a big, exciting experience. I didn't know it was going to be that big. When we came walking out of the tunnel, the crowd was going crazy, and we had the alumni out on the field. That was a cool deal."

The Bearkat front line certainly appreciates the talents of Flanders and his backfield teammates Ryan Wilson and Ridgeway Frank.

"As an offensive lineman, it's great to have running backs like Tim, Ryan Wilson and Ridgeway" All-Southland center Travis Watson said. "Tim is just an amazing back - you give him an inch and he takes a mile. And he's so humble. It's a pleasure to block for all three of these guys."

For the year, Flanders finished just shy of the 1,000-yard mark, with 948 yards. Despite missing the better part of three games, he still led the Southland Conference in rushing and was named first-team All- Southland running back.

It is the eighth best single season for an SHSU back, the most for a freshman, and his 13 rushing touchdowns on the year were tied for fourth-best in a single season.

He also set a season record with seven 100-yard rushing games and is fourth for most in a career, trailing Charles Harris, who did it 11 times in his four-year career.

With three years still to play, Flanders will begin an assault on just about every career rushing record in school and Southland Conference history. He was named one of the 10 running backs to watch in 2011 by The Sports Network, the same group that awards the Walter Payton Award for the best player in Football Championship Series football each year.

Flanders's focus, however, remains on the team.

"I think we are a lot closer than we were last year," he said. "We came together in the spring, and everyone is more committed. I think we have a chance to do some more things on offense, and we have a lot of guys who can score from anywhere on the field."

Sam Houston State will kickoff the 2011 football season at home in Elliott T. Bowers Stadium Thursday Sept. 1 when the Bearkats play host to Western Illinois at 6 p.m.

The Kats will play six home games at Bowers during the 2011 season and face Stephen F. Austin in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" presented by YP.com at Reliant Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8.

Football tickets are available online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the Sam Houston Athletic Ticket Office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729.