There's not an awful lot about last year's game against Western Illinois that the Bearkats would like to remember, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Behind the arm of Walter Payton award finalist, Matt Barr, the Leathernecks churned up and down the field for 500-plus yards against a young Sam Houston defense and rolled the Kats 56-14.

Since that early September game in Macomb, Ill., the Bearkat defense has admittedly grown up a lot. With another meeting with the Leathernecks coming up Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Bowers Stadium, Sam Houston is looking to avoid the same fate in its season opener.

"We're ready and we've still got a chip on our shoulder from the last time we played them," said Kats senior linebacker Will Henry following Monday's practice.

During last season's contest, the Bearkats hung with the Leathernecks for most of the first half and looked to go into halftime trailing by just one score. That's when Western Illinois got into gear, offensively.

The Leathernecks got into the end zone a few minutes before the end of the second quarter and scored 28 unanswered points in the second half.

Barr finished with 346 yards of offense (221 passing and 125 rushing) and running backs Bryce Flowers and Caulton Ray rushed for 83 and 69 yards, respectively, with one score apiece. Western Illinois also accounted for more than 300 rushing yards in the win.

"A lot of it was not paying attention to our keys," Sam Houston junior defensive back Robert Shaw said. "We're more mature now. A lot of it was making too many mistakes and now that we have more people experienced, we shouldn't have those problems."

Looking to change their fortunes against the Leathernecks, who have beaten the Bearkats in early-season matchups in each of the past two seasons, Sam Houston knows that its first order of business Thursday night will be stopping Western Illinois' potent running attack.

"They're a good ballclub. They're a powerful team. They're a physical team. They run the ball very effectively. They had a 1,000-yard rusher and almost a 900-yard rusher last season," Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said.

"It all starts for us stopping them from running the football. We've got to do a good job of limiting their success running the ball."

This time around, the Leathernecks will have to do without the leadership of Barr, who passed for 3,410 yards and 27 touchdowns last season.

"They pretty much haven't changed their offense. They're running the same thing. It's pretty much going to come down to who executes better," Shaw said.

"Our secondary is on point. I feel very confident about everybody. Everybody knows what to do. Everybody has the ability. I have no doubt in my mind that the secondary can get the job done."

"We just have to play. We can't be worried about who plays where," Henry added. "We're just ready for whoever."

Tickets for Sam Houston's season opener with WIU are on sale now online at or at the SHSU 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.