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« CSN Inside the OVC: No Unbeatens Left In OVCMIAC Profiles of Excellence: Jeffrey Hilliard, University of St. Thomas »

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CSN Down South: Spotlight on Stephen F.

floated rightBy Jason Plotkin, CSN Down South Columnist

GPI#13 Stephen F. Austin is at the core of the Southland Conference this week for both on the field and off the field activities involving the Lumberjack football team.

On the field, the Lumberjacks quieted skeptics with a thrilling 33-30 victory over now GPI#20 Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. SFA entered the game with an impressive home victory against another top 10 team in now GPI#19 McNeese State the previous week, but questions still lingered.

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Now, after defeating a UCA team that finished on top of the league standings last year, the Lumberjacks and quarterback Jeremy Moses have finally earned credibility in the eyes of many in the nation who doubted the squad. Poll voters responded with SFA moving up to No. 13 in the Any Given Saturday poll, five spots to No. 15 in the Sports Network poll and three spots to No. 18 in the coaches’ poll.

To get the win, the team did what they are known best for - passing the ball. Moses connected with seven different receivers on way to a 29-of-40, 320 yard and three touchdown night. Duane Brooks led the way with nine receptions.

On the defensive end, Jabara Williams came through with 11 tackles, including three for losses. Sophomore Devin Ducote added another 12 tackles with two in the negative direction.

Have the Jacks arrived? With wins against the two teams outside of Texas State picked to have the most success, the Lumberjacks are in the driver’s seat of this league with some slight whispers heard from corners of the country regarding a national seed if they can continue to win.

Off the field, SFA has carried the brunt of the conversation.

At the end of last week, Kevin Gore of the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel broke a story, he was most likely asked to stay quiet on, as it was announced that the Lumberjacks’ annual “Battle of the Piney Woods” rivalry game against Sam Houston State would move from campus sites to Reliant Stadium.

The game, which was formally announced on Tuesday afternoon at Reliant Stadium will only allow this rivalry to reach a grand stage.

With the Houston Texans’ marketing arm behind the contest and support from both universities, the game should be able to rival, if not surpass the long standing Labor Day Classic between Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M that has struggled to reach 20,000 in attendance. The organization has already stated the goal is to fill the lower bowl of 26,000 – which with tickets between $15 and $35 seems plausible.

Whether or not this game is to be televised remains to be seen, as no details were provided regarding a broadcast.

A problem in the past when SFA would schedule the rivalry game for Homecoming, the contest will no longer be subject to penalties put in place by the Lumberjack administration which locked the game into a time without flexibility for television purposes.

Not a problem when the game is contested at SHSU’s Bowers Stadium, the game has historically been the highest rated television contest in the league when made available for television.

As the “Battle of the Piney Woods” takes to the field this week at Homer Bryce Stadium, fans will get one last chance for at least four or five years to experience the classic rivalry on the home field.

A LOOK AT LAST WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS AND STORY LINES

Southeastern Silences Sam, Starts Southland 2-0. For the first time in school history, Southeastern La. is 2-0 in the SLC after defeating SHSU at Strawberry Stadium. A near-capacity crowd saw a Lions’ team step up to the challenge of facing a tough Texas team for the second straight week. SLU has claimed the last two in the series and with Simmie Yarborough proving that he’s one of the top wide receivers in the conference, it put on a show for the crowd to see.

Bobcats Hold Off Colonels. A staple of the Texas State football team is it cannot close out games. As seen in the come-from-behind victory by SLU last week, this team is still looking to play all 60 minutes. This week against Nicholls, the Bobcats let a 17-point advantage against a poor offense shrink to six points, but luckily for TXST, Bradley George connected for a third-down conversion to bail the Bobcats out and secure the paddle.

Peveto Still Seeking Victory, Demons Fall to McNeese. When the Pokes were without Todd Pendland, it looked as if things were starting to turn into Northwestern State’s favor. Six minutes into the game with McNeese up 13-0, it clearly was not. The Cowboys expanded their lead to 30-3 by halftime and with the Demons coughing up two fumbles and allowing a shade under 15 yards per completion, there was no chance for Bradley Dale Peveto to get his first victory at the helm of the program.

SOUTHLAND STARS

It is not often that a special teams player earns accolades in this column, but after seeing SLU kicker Jeff Turner connect on all seven attempts, including four extra points and three field goals, he is deserving.

In the southeastern portion of the Pelican State, the weather turned south and got a bit cold during the day before the game between the Bearkats and the Lions. For a player that relies heavily on staying loose, dealing with the cold weather and strong winds is not something you can prepare for.

Against SHSU, Turner connected from 20, 43 and 46 yards to help steer the Lions to victory. Before the game, Turner was given his proper praise for becoming the school’s all-time scoring leader, a mark he increased to 237 with his 13 points as the Lions improved to 2-0 in league play.

THIS WEEK’S SLATE

The previously covered “Battle of the Piney Woods” highlights a slate that includes a battle between SLU and McNeese.

The Lions, who are receiving votes in all of the major polls, could make a statement with a victory over a ranked Cowboy squad. In one of the more memorable games since the SLU program was reinstated, the Lions stomped McNeese 51-17 at “The Hole” in 2004. While a repeat of the 2004 game might not be on the agenda, the Southland TV Network seems to have landed the right game once more as the network heads to McNeese for this televised contest.

The other two games feature interstate matchups as Nicholls heads to UCA and TXST makes the trip to Northwestern State. The Colonels’ defense will be up to a tough challenge against the high-powered Bears’ offense. A Nicholls team that has struggled offensively will be in no position for a high-scoring game and it will look to its defense and special teams to stay within reach.

For the Demons, a victory would be nice and going up against a TXST team that fails to close out games might just be that opportunity. Two weeks ago, the Bobcats blew a lead at home against SLU and nearly let Nicholls grab a victory this past weekend. A team that has struggled mightily on the road will need to get ahead and maintain the lead if it wants to improve to 2-1 in conference against a Peveto team that is looking to show a sign of life.

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LAGNIAPPE – A BIT EXTRA TO WRITE HOME ABOUT

+ NWST is reporting that just two people asked for refunds in the wake of the “Peveto Promise.” The “Promise,” if you recall, was that if fans did not like the product on the field through two home games, they could ask for a refund. With the Demons winless at home through two home games and without a victory overall, just two took advantage of the refund.

+ To date, the Lamar scheduling issue with Georgia State has not been resolved. Several months ago, Lamar released a 2010 schedule with the Panthers listed while GSU followed with a schedule of its own without a Cardinal in sight. An issue with the contract was apparently at hand and it continues to remain quiet on the Lamar front compared with coverage of programs in a similar stage of developing football.

+ Current GPI rankings:
6. Southland Conference (38.97)
13T. SF Austin (13.50)
19. McNeese St (21.25)
20. Cent Arkansas (21.88)
38T. SE Louisiana (33.88)
47. Texas St (38.50)
62. Sam Houston St (48.75)
92T. Nicholls St (67.00)
92T. Northwestern St (67.00)