Battle of the Piney Woods Rivalry Continues to Produce NFL Talent

Since 2010, the Sam Houston Bearkats and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks have traveled south to Houston for one of the best FCS rivalry games: The Battle of the Piney Woods. Both institutions will continue to travel to Houston for the foreseeable future as Lone Star Sports and Entertainment came to an agreement with both schools to meet at NRG Stadium permanently.

The Bearkats have dominated the series the past few seasons, having won some high scoring shootouts in NRG Stadium the past three years.




Those are the point totals for the last three games and the first two listed above (2012 and 2013) were decided by only one score. Minus 2011, the average margin of victory is just eight points.

It’s as fun a matchup as this state can produce and given the nature of the upheaval in college football realignment, it’s one of the longest running rivalries in the state of Texas on any level.

The fact that the rivalry has moved inside to an NFL building speaks to the talent that resides on both sides of this rivalry. Currently, there are three former Bearkats/Lumberjacks in the NFL and a few more are on the way.

Former Sam Houston State star QB Josh McCown has played for nine organizations in his 13 year career and over the off-season, he signed with the Cleveland Browns. If McCown does eventually start, he’ll be one of potentially ten starting quarterbacks from the state of Texas (Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, potentially Nick Foles, potentially Ryan Mallett) and the only NFL starting QB from the Southland Conference.

New England Patriots DB Daxton Swanson is Sam Houston State’s all-time interception leader. He came into the league with the Colts, resided on the 49ers practice squad and is now with the World Champs in New England.

Former SFA star DB Josh Aubrey calls NRG Stadium his home, playing for the Houston Texans. He obviously doesn’t have to go far to see the Battle of the Piney Woods and is thrilled that the rivalry is here to stay.

SFA’s record setting running back Gus Johnson wasn’t drafted but he signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders following the 2015 Draft. Johnson is the school’s all-time leading rusher, was a two time 1st Team All-Southland Conference honoree and earned an FCS All-America honors in 2014.

Johnson was Stephen F. Austin’s only undrafted signee, while Sam Houston had two former Bearkats sign with NFL teams. TE Shane Young signed with the New England Patriots following the draft as well. Young caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 Battle of the Piney Woods. Johnson’s counterpart at RB for SHSU Keshawn Hill signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Hill, in particular, loved playing in NRG Stadium; he had four touchdowns on only 14 carries in last year’s 42-28 win over Stephen F. Austin.

The Battle of the Piney Woods is a rivalry in every sense of the word and it helps produce next level talent that one day returns to play in the permanent home of the game.

– John Harris, College Football Analyst –