One of the biggest Texas football rivalries is the Battle of the Piney Woods between Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin. The teams have played 90 times since 1923, including the Bearkats’ 21-8 victory on Oct. 31, 1964.
It’s the sports moment judged the greatest in SHSU history because the win on Halloween paved the way to the Bearkats’ first and only national championship in football.
The school’s website picks up the story:
In 1963, Stephen F. Austin ended Sam Houston State’s five-year Battle of the Piney Woods winning streak with a 14-13 upset at the Lumberjacks’ homecoming game in Nacogdoches.
Both teams returned a strong group of lettermen from successful teams for the 1964 campaign. Preseason forecasters predicted a tight race for the 1964 Lone Star Conference championship that could be decided at the Piney Woods tilt in Huntsville on Halloween.
Coach Paul “Red” Pierce fielded a Bearkats team with a rushing attack led by halfbacks Billy Arlen, Joe Ed Lynn and Ted Minyard. Another team strength was the defense anchored by tackle Frank Fox and linebacker David Martin.
The Bearkats rolled into the “Battle of the Piney Woods” with a perfect 5-0 record and an NAIA No. 3 national ranking as Sam Houston posted victories over Tarleton State, Corpus Christi, Howard Payne, Texas Lutheran and Southwest Texas.
The road to the Battle of the Piney Woods had some bumps for the Lumberjacks of Coach Travis “Shorty” Hughes. The ‘Jacks had lost both their non-conference games and fallen to Lone Star foe Texas A&I but bounced back with wins over Tarleton State and Sul Ross to keep their title hopes alive.
SFA featured a strong running game as well with halfbacks Billy Burt and Tom Byer ranked among the league’s leading rushers.
It was the Sam Houston defense, however, that provided the edge for a Bearkats victory to avenge the 1963 loss.
A hard tackle shook lose the ball and Sam Houston’s Mike Bobo grabbed the fumble in mid-air and dashed 24 yards for the Bearkats’ first touchdown.
Fullback Dave Smith completed a long drive with a one-yard dive up the middle for the second Bearkat tally. Minyard, who led both teams with 132 yards rushing, scored on an 11-yard run to ice a 21-8 victory over SFA.
Sam Houston limited the Jacks to only 105 yards rushing and 26 yards in the air for 131 yards total offense.
The Kats defeated East Texas 6-0 and Texas A&I 21-16 to clinch their third Lone Star Conference championship in eight seasons (all under Coach Pierce).
Sul Ross handed Sam Houston its only loss by a 14-7 margin in the season finale in Alpine but the 8-1 record earned the Bearkats one of the four berths in the NAIA playoffs.
The Bearkats defeated Findlay College 31-21 in the semifinals in Findlay, Ohio, to advance to the NAIA Championship game against Concordia College of Minnesota in Augusta, Georgia. Played in cold, wet conditions, the game ended in a 7-7 tie and Sam Houston and Concordia were named NAIA national co-Champions.
Fox and Minyard both were named as NAIA All-America first team selections. Arlen, Lynn, Martin, Norman Peterson and Keith Collins were honorable mention All-America selections.
Arlen, Collins, Fox, Martin, Ed Bittick, Don Murray and Benny Sorgee were named All-Lone Star Conference.
Pierce served three more seasons as Sam Houston head football coach. From 1952 to 1967, Pierce compiled a 92-52-7 record. During his tenure with the Bearkats, Pierce’s teams won 11 of 16 “Battle of the Piney Woods” games with Stephen F. Austin.
On the cover and above: Sam Houston State’s 1964 NAIA national co-champions. (Courtesy Sam Houston State University Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Saint Louis and Samford
• Tuesday: Sam Houston State and Seattle
• Wednesday: South Florida and Southeast Missouri State
• Thursday: Southeastern Louisiana and SIU Edwardsville
• Friday: SMU and Southern Mississippi