CFB Insider

96th Battle of the Piney Woods: one last time in the WAC.

One of the oldest college football rivalries in Texas, the 96th Battle of the Piney Woods presented by H-E-B again promises to be one of the top FCS games of the 2022 season. In their final season together in the Western Athletic Conference, the Sam Houston Bearkats and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks are back at NRG Stadium for possibly their last thrilling matchup. Following the 2022 season, Sam Houston will transition to Conference USA after spending 34 years in the Southland Conference with SFA and the last two seasons in the WAC. 


Led by Head Coach K.C. Keeler, the 2022 Bearkats are replacing 16 starters from an 11-1 team that reached the FCS quarterfinals a year ago. One of those new additions to the roster is QB Jordan Yates, a grad transfer from Georgia Tech, who started the season and currently leads the team with 195 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown. 


Sam Houston is coming off its first win of the season after an opening day loss to Texas A&M in College Station. Against Texas A&M Commerce, the Bearkats won 27-17 with Yates scoring on a six-yard touchdown run before junior Keegan Shoemaker came off the bench to lead three scoring drives. RB Zach Hrbacek, a redshirt freshman from Troy, rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries (6.9 yards ave.) and a fourth-quarter touchdown to give the Kats a 24-10 lead, earning the WAC’s Offensive Player of the Week.


In contrast, SFA has a number of returning starters for this year’s matchup, including QB Trae Self, WR/Kick returner Xavier Gipson and WR Lawton Rikel. Both Gipson and Self have been named to the initial 2022 Walter Payton Award watch list, presented by Stats Perform to the national offensive player of the year in college football’s Division I subdivision. 


Colby Carthel, in his fourth season as head coach, is coming off a record-setting home opener and his first shutout at SFA. Last week, the Lumberjacks not only scored the most points in a WAC game in history in their 98-0 victory over Warner University, they also moved up to No. 14 in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. Self was 12-for-14 for 266 yards and four touchdowns, while Gipson finished with six receptions for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Lumberjacks defense added a pair of touchdowns on fumble recoveries by senior defensive linemen Marje Smith and DE BJ Thompson. 


Last year’s BOTPW culminated in a dramatic comeback when Sam Houston overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to finish with a 21-20 victory over SFA. The Bearkats hold a 58-35-2 edge in the all-time series entering the 2022 matchup.

The 2022 Battle of the Piney Woods presented by H-E-B will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, October 1, from NRG Stadium in Houston. The game will be televised on Bally Sports Southwest with radio broadcast of the game on SportsRadio 610 KILT-AM.