Editor's note: The 86th "Battle of the Piney Woods" shoot-out returns to Reliant Stadium on Saturday, October 8, 2011. GoBearkats.Com presents a series on the history of the rivalry including accounts of the greatest SHSU-SFA games.
A new chapter in the "Battle of the Piney Woods" football rivalry began last October when Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin met at Reliant Stadium in Houston before more than 24,000 fans.
Since its birth in 1923, the annual gridiron grudge match between the Bearkats and the Lumberjacks has been something special.
With 85 meetings, the series ranks as the oldest NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) rivalry in Texas.
Among the state's college rivalries in both FCS and the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) that have played annually since World War II, the SHSU-SFA series stands as the seventh longest. Only Texas-Texas A&M (116 games), Baylor-Texas A&M (107), Baylor-Texas (99), SMU-TCU (89), SMU-Rice (87) and Sam Houston-Texas State (87) have totaled more meetings.
More than 60 athletes who went on the play in the National Football League and 53 who earned NCAA Division I All-America honors have participated in past "Battle of the Piney Woods" games.
With both Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin competing in the same league since the two began competing, the winner of the "Piney Woods" showdown has gone on to become conference champion 16 times. Sam Houston holds a 48-35-2 edge in the series. The Bearkats have won 10 conference titles in their football history while SFA has totaled five.
The move of the series to Reliant Stadium comes from a partnership between Lone Star Sports & Entertainment (LSSE) and the two universities. LSSE is an independent event management company which is closely affiliated with the NFL's Houston Texans.
"The Battle of the Piney Woods is one of the great traditions in college football in the state of Texas, and we are proud to bring it to Reliant Stadium," said LSSE president Jamey Rootes. "We want to make Reliant Stadium the premier venue for every level of college football in Texas; and this rivalry brings us one step closer to that goal."
Perhaps the proximity of the two universities named for Texas history heroes has been a factor in the intensity of rivalry (the distance between Huntsville and Nacogdoches is less than 100 miles). Whatever the reason, the annual game always has been a grudge match.
After a 6-0 Bearkat victory in 1925, the university's first football win over the Jacks, the Sam Houston Alcalde reported "In the hardest fought game of the season the Bearkats downed the sturdy Lumberjacks at Nacogdoches. This fray was marked by unusual roughness and hard playing."
In 1930, a victory over SFA propelled Sam Houston to its first conference championship as a 20-0 shutout in Huntsville completed a 9-1 season with a Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship.
Between 1926 and 1941, both teams ended their seasons with the "Battle of the Piney Woods" contest. Ten times, the game was played on Thanksgiving day. The pair met in season finale matchups 23 more times from 1949 to 1983. The rivalry settled on a mid-October date after both moved up to the Southland Conference.
Thirteen times since 1988, one or both teams have come into the "Piney Woods" shoot-out ranked among the top 25 NCAA Division FBS teams. Sam Houston won six of those meetings including victories over a nationally-ranked SFA squad in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004.
The 2001 "Battle" that matched No. 16 Sam Houston and No. 19 SFA and featured a showdown between future pro quarterbacks Josh McCown and Wes Pate brought the highest ratings ever for a Southland Conference regional telecast. Sam Houston won 24-21 and went on to win the league title.
Since that 2001 game, seven of the 10 contests have been decided by less than a touchdown.
"That shows you how competitive this rivalry has become," Sam Houston director of athletics Bobby Williams said. "We're excited about bringing this fantastic rivalry to Houston fans."
The winner of the "Battle of the Piney Woods" earns more than bragging rights. Since 2007, a 21-pound solid cedar trophy that displays replica pistols, similar to the pistols that were on the original "Piney Woods" trophy in the '70's awaits the game winner. The logos from both universities are engraved on the handle of the pistols. Below are nameplates to display the outcomes of the contest for the next two decades.
"Rivalries add to the excitement and pageantry of college athletics," said SFA Director of Athletics Robert Hill. "This game is one that the fans look forward to each and every season. The trophy will add even more excitement for everyone involved in the series."
Battle of the Piney Woods tickets are now on sale through the university's athletic websites at www.gobearkats.com. 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.
Ticket prices range from $15 to $35. Sam Houston State season ticket holders will have premium ticket locations included in their packages. Only lower bowl seating will be open at Reliant Stadium for the "Battle of the Piney Woods." Sam Houston fans will be seated on the west side of the stadium while the SFA section will be on the east side.
Battle of the Piney Woods -- Greatest Games:
1. Sam Houston's first victory over SFA -- Bearkats 6, Jacks 0 -- 1925.
2. Kats earn first conference title -- Bearkats 20, Jacks 0 -- 1930
3. Thanksgiving Day thriller -- Bearkats 13, Jacks 6 -- 1938
4. Win earns Kats' first post-season game -- Bearkats 32, Jacks 20 -- 1952
5. Mac Moore runs over Lumberjacks -- Bearkats 25, Jacks 14 -- 1953
6. Victory gives Sam first Lone Star title -- Bearkats 26, Jacks 6 -- 1955
7. Shutout of SFA completes first unbeaten season -- Bearkats 31, Jacks 6 -- 1956
8. Rain soaked upset spoils SFA Homecoming -- Bearkats 6, Jacks 0 -- 1959
9. Halloween win paves way to national title -- Bearkats 21, Jacks 8 -- 1964
10. Kats grind out win on way to 8-win season -- Bearkats 25, Jacks 18 -- 1970
11.) SFA forced to share league title with Kats -- Bearkats 28, Jacks 21 -- 1985
12.) Last minute heroics earn SHSU league title -- Bearkats 30, Jacks 26 -- 1986
13.) Victory in first Southland Piney Woods battle -- Bearkats 31, Jacks 17 -- 1987
14.) Sam Houston wins see-saw Homecoming victory -- Bearkats 34, Jacks 23 -- 1992
15.) Late punt return sinks No. 4 SFA -- Bearkats 14, Jacks 10 -- 1996
16.) Fourth down TD run powers upset -- Bearkats 33, Jacks 28 -- 1997
17.) Teams combine for 93 points in 2000 -- Bearkats 52, Jacks 41 -- 2000
18.) Quarterback duel highlights regional TV win -- Bearkats 24, Jacks 21 -- 2001
19). Unranked Kats spoil SFA homecoming again -- Bearkats 10, Jacks 7 -- 2002
20.) Blocked field ices win in 79th -battle - Bearkats 31, Jacks 28 -- 2004