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"Battle of the
Piney Woods"
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Battle of the
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There is no doubt Sam Houston State's football players realize what is at stake today at Reliant Stadium when the Bearkats and the Lumberjacks clash for the 87th time in "The Battle of the Piney Woods.".

"It doesn't matter where you are in the season or where you're playing them at, it's going to be a dogfight," Bearkats starting quarterback Brian Bell said. "The whole atmosphere the alumni brings to the game is terrific. It's just a lot of fun getting to go play in Reliant Stadium against our rivals. We look forward to playing this game every year. It's going to be a fun one."

October 6 has been a special date on the 2012 schedule for both teams.

"There's nothing to say. All coach has to say is SFA and Piney Woods and everybody's going to get excited," Kats senior safety Robert Shaw said.

"We've been saying since the beginning of this week that it's playoff intensity, playoff intensity," Bell said.

From going through the trials of facing Stephen F. Austin's highly productive offense in the past few years, the Bearkats defense knows what to expect.

Through five games - two were against FBS squads and two were against ranked FCS teams - the Lumberjacks are scoring 32.6 points a game and have compiled 2,414 yards of offense (482.8 yards per game).

What makes this season's SFA squad a little different is that the Lumberjacks have found some consistency in the running game and have committed more to it. Stephen F. Austin is averaging nearly 100 rushing yards a game with sophomore Gus Johnson leading the way with 480 yards and nine touchdowns.

"They've discovered a running game, so now we're focusing on stopping the run like we would for any other team," Shaw said. "The passing game is still strong, so we've got to work extra hard."

Even though the Lumberjacks have added another dimension to their offense, they still have a pass-heavy philosophy, averaging nearly 60 attempts per game. That puts even more pressure on the Bearkat secondary.

"Basically we're going to have to stop the pass and play man-to-man, but also be aware that we've got to come and fit for the run," Shaw said. "It's going to take a lot more preparing and a lot more studying film.

"It's going to be tough manning up with them all game. They're going to make their catches and make their big plays. We've just got to make more big plays and come out on top."

Just like the Lumberjacks, the Bearkats know they can't afford to make any mistakes in today's battle.

The offense will need to click on all cylinders against a defense that held Central Arkansas to 217 yards of offense (115 passing and 102 rushing). The defense will also need to stifle the Lumberjack receivers, force turnovers and win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

Just like it has the past three years, the Battle of the Piney Woods could ultimately determine who will reign atop the Southland Conference at season's end. For a game with as much at stake as there will be in this one, the Kats will have to lay it all on the line against a team that also has its sights set on coming away with bragging rights.

"It's a playoff intensity game and it's a rivalry, but just the stakes make the rivalry even bigger," Bell added. "It's going to be a fun game and we're looking forward to trying to go 1-0 this week."

SHSU head coach Willie Fritz knows a key for the defense will be getting to the SFA quarterback.

"They get the ball out of their hands quickly," Fritz said. "What you've got to do is make the guy throw it on time and to have good coverage. If he doesn't throw it on time, then we've got to be able to get him off that spot or we need to make him throw it a little bit early. They're going to complete some balls, but we need to be able to catch them and tackle. Getting pressure's very important. We're going to have a lot of different ways to do it."

SFA gives Sam Houston State unique challenges.

"They have no fear of throwing the ball around," Fritz said. "They don't care if it's fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-11. They like throwing the ball. The new challenge they present is they have a good running game now. The past two years, they really weren't interested in running the ball and now they can run it effectively.

"They're a very good football team. They had a good opportunity to beat Montana State at Montana State, the number two team in the country. They went over to Texas State and had a very good chance to win over there at a FBS program that beat Houston. Last week, they beat Central Arkansas. Both of us have played extremely tough opening schedules."

Saturday: Sam Houston vs. Stephen F. Austin, Reliant Stadium, Houston, 3 p.m.
Records: Bearkats are 0-1 in SLC play, 2-2 overall; Lumberjacks are 1-0 in SLC play, 2-3 overall
TV/Radio: KUBE (Channel 57 in Houston, Channel 15 on Suddenlink in Huntsville) will televise the game; KSAM (101.7 FM) will broadcast the game