CFB Insider

2021 Battle of the Piney Woods Preview

Sideline reporter Deepi Sidhu takes a deep dive into what to expect from this year's Match-up.

“I don’t know if you can get this game any more intense than it has been.” – K.C. Keeler

The 95th Battle of the Piney Woods presented by H-E-B, featuring the top-ranked Sam Houston Bearkats and the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, is back at NRG Stadium on Saturday. Known as one of the oldest college football rivalries in Texas, this matchup again promises to be one of the top FCS games of the 2021 season. 

This is the first time in the series history that either team has entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation (at any level). 

The defending national FCS champion Bearkats are ranked No.1 in the nation following a 3-0 start to their season. Head Coach K.C. Keeler’s team currently leads the WAC in scoring offense (46.3), total offense (533.0), rushing offense (259.0), rushing defense (77.33), third down conversions (.500) and sacks against (3). 

This spring, Sam Houston wrapped up its final season in the Southland Conference as FCS national champions. The 10-0 Kats won the program’s first FCS national title with a dramatic 23-21 win over top-seeded South Dakota State in the 2020 FCS Championship game in Frisco. All 11 starters on offense and defense, in addition to specialists, from the Bearkats championship roster are back for the 2021 season. 

Colby Carthel, now in his third season as head coach at SFA, has turned the Lumberjacks program around from a 3-9 finish in 2019 to a 6-4 record in 2020. This season, the Lumberjacks are 3-1 entering this matchup and have won eight straight games at Homer Bryce Stadium. The 2021 SFA team leads the league in a number of defensive and special teams categories, including total defense (266.5), scoring defense (16.0), defensive pass efficiency (86.2), passing offense (287.0), field goals made (9), net yards per punt (52.5), punt return average (22.1), punt return TDs (3), interceptions (8), turnover margin (+1.3), fourth-down conversions (.571), sacks by (14) and time of possession (31:42). 

Last week against a nationally-ranked Central Arkansas team, Sam Houston QB Eric Schmid was named Western Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Week. The redshirt junior quarterback from the Woodlands completed 19-of-37 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns, all before halftime. He also rushed for 48 yards on 10 carries. Seth Morgan, a freshman from Houston, earns his second WAC Special Teams Player of the Week honor after going 3-for-3 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points in a 45-35 win over nationally-ranked Central Arkansas. Now a perfect 17-for-17 on extra points and 4-for-4 on field goals, his scores against UCA came from twice from 22 yards and once from 32 yards. 

Stephen F. Austin has outscored its opponents 119-26 in the past two weeks following a hard-fought 28-22 loss to Texas Tech. The Lumberjacks forced four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles), including pick returned for a touchdown in their only loss of the season. In last week’s 61-13 win over Lincoln (California), Lenard Lemonds had a 67-yard punt return for a TD and 23 yards on kick returns. Rayshad Nichols recorded seven tackles, including three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

Individually, Bearkats RB Ramon Jefferson is the WAC’s leader in rushing yards per game (133.3) and has scored four touchdowns, while Schmid is the leader in total offense (288.0) and passing yards per game (267.0).  Sam Houston DB Jaylen Thomas and Stephen F. Austin CB Myles Brooks are tied for the lead in interceptions with three each.

The Texas rivalry dates back to 1923 with Sam Houston winning the last nine meetings and holding a 57-35-2 record over Stephen F. Austin. Nine of the past 11 BOTPW winners have gone on to advance to the NCAA postseason playoffs.

Kickoff for the Battle of the Piney Woods presented by H-E-B takes place Saturday 4 p.m. CT from NRG Stadium. The game will be televised on Bally Sports Southwest and ESPN Plus.