Sam Houston 28, Stephen F. Austin 21
Part of the mystic of the "Battle of the Piney Woods" is the number of times the outcome has been instrumental in a conference championship season for either Sam Houston or Stephen F. Austin.
One of those most memorable of these showdowns came in 1985.
In 1984, after 49 seasons as members of the Lone Star Conference, Sam Houston joined SFA, Southwest Texas, Northwestern State, Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana in forming a new NCAA league, the Gulf Star.
From the start, the Bearkats and the Lumberjacks dominated the new league.
Led by junior quarterback Todd Whitten, the Lumberjacks of head coach Jim Hess came into the 60th "Battle of the Piney Woods" in Nacogdoches unbeaten in Gulf Star action and nationally ranked with a 7-1 season record.
Sam Houston entered the game with a 5-2 mark. But the Kats stood in a must-win situation in the Gulf Star race after falling to Northwestern State 14-10 two weeks before the SFA game.
The Bearkats had an outstanding quarterback as well with senior Lanny Dycus of Abilene calling signals. The showdown brought 12,528 fans out to watch the fireworks.
Head coach Ron Randleman's Sam Houston squad jumped out to a 14-0 lead with a pair of touchdowns in a four-minute span late in the opening period.
Fullback J. J. Middleton completed a long drive with a one-yard touchdown at the 6:26 mark and halfback Luther Turner scored on a nifty 18-yard dash with 2:32 remaining in the quarterback. Billy Hayes added both extra points.
Michael Horace put the Jacks on the board with a 14-yard touchdown run just a minute-and-a-half into the second quarter. But SFA missed the extra point and Sam Houston went into the locker room at intermission with a 14-6 lead.
Two third quarter touchdowns by Sam Houston gave the Bearkats what looked like a comfortable lead. Turner scored from the three with 7:08 in the period and Dycus hit Kenny Allen for a 13-yard touchdown two minutes later. The Kats entered the final period with a 28-6 lead.
Looking for their first conference championship since tying for the 1935 Lone Star Conference title, SFA was not finished yet. Whitten hit James Noble for a 44-yard tally with 10:54 to play then added a successful two-point conversion on a pass play.
With 4:54 remaining, Whitten found Andrew Ray open in the end zone for a six-yard pass to cut the margin to a touchdown. Whitten ended the contest with 324 yards in the air, but the Jacks couldn't come any closer as the Bearkats hung on for the 28-21 victory.
Dycus totaled 171 yards in the air while Turner carried 19 times for 72 yards.
The victory was the third of five straight wins to close the 1985 season for SHSU with an 8-3 record. The Jacks closed out the year with victories over Southwest Texas and Northwestern State, but the loss to Sam Houston meant the two teams shared the Gulf Star Conference title.
For Randleman, the championship was the first of five conference titles his teams would win as he rolled up a 132-124-3 record to become Sam Houston's all-time "winningest" head coach.
Whitten would later serve as offensive coordinator for Sam Houston in 1999 and Bearkat head coach from 2005 to 2009.
Also on the sidelines that day in 1985 were two young coaches who would become part of Sam Houston history.
Bobby Williams, current Sam Houston director of athletics, joined Randleman's staff in 1982 as secondary coach after playing in the Southwest Conference at Rice.
Willie Fritz also was on the Kat sidelines. In 1985, he was serving as a graduate assistant. He would return as secondary and special teams coach for the Bearkats' 1991 Southland Conference champions. This season Fritz takes over as the 14th head football coach in Sam Houston history.
Dycus, Turner, offensive tackle Brett Kaiser, defensive lineman Carl Willis and defensive back Tollie Royal all earned first-team All-Gulf Star Conference honors. Guard Kelvin Scott, tight end Kenny Allen, defensive lineman Theron Harrison, linebacker Freddie Nickson and defensive back Frank Fryer were second team all-conference selections.
The next chapter in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" football rivalry sees Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin battle at Reliant Stadium in Houston Oct. 6 at 3 p.m.
Crowds of more than 25,000 have packed the lower bowl at Reliant each of the past two years and tickets are going fast.
Battle of the Piney Woods Tickets are now on sale through the university's athletic website. Fans also can purchase tickets at the Sam Houston athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House in the south end zone at Bowers Stadium or by calling ticket office at (936) 294-1729.