What will this Eastern, Sam Houston game bring?
Eastern's Cory Mitchell - and Texas native - in action in the 2013 EWU-SHSU game in Huntsville, Texas.
The cross-country Football Championship Subdivision rivalry between Eastern Washington University and Sam Houston State University has produced plenty to talk about in the three previous games.
Saturday's fourth game in the series, the first college football game of 2014 and broadcast across the United States on ESPN to over 110 million homes, surely has the promise to be another.
There are plenty of story lines.
The Sports Network's top-ranked Eagles - 12-3 in 2012 -take on the No. 17 Bearkats who come off a 9-5 finish last year under Willie Fritz, now the coach at Georgia Southern.
Coaches in the game, EWU 's Beau Baldwin and SHSU's K.C. Keeler, last faced each other Jan. 7, 2011 in Frisco, Texas. Baldwin's Eastern team rallied to beat Keeler's Delaware squad 20-19 in the FCS title game.
History is memorable for the Bearkats and largely forgettable for the Eagles who are 0-3 in games to date after 2013's 49-34 shootout loss in Huntsville, Texas.
The first two contests, both in the FCS playoffs played in Cheney on December days eight years apart, produced wild swings, and just as crazy of finishes.
In 2004, on an icy cold night in a quarterfinal game played before 7,633 fans, at Woodward Field, the first time EWU hosted a playoff round, the Eagles raced to a 34-14 lead six seconds into the fourth period.
That sent many in attendance to the warmth of their cars - or downtown Cheney bars - to catch the celebration.
No one ever thought the night, and the jubilation, would belong to Sam Houston who drove 75 yards in the game's final 43 seconds and scored the game winning touchdown as time ran out. And one never knew when a missed point-after kick, which came after Easter's first score, might be the difference in a 35-34 SHSU win.
Certainly it couldn't happen again, right? Never could a meeting of the FCS's No. 4-ranked EWU and Sam Houston, the No. 5 team be a blowout?
But in their Dec. 15, 2013 semifinal playoff meeting, with a trip back to Frisco on the line, Sam Houston stunned the 7,615 at snowy Roos Field, rocketing to a 35-0 halftime lead.
Eastern's Brandon Kaufman sparked a remarkable comeback, scoring four times, as the Eagles closed the gap to a single touchdown, twice, but they fell 45-42 as the rally ran out of time.
Last year's loss might be remembered more for the weather than anything as thunderstorms delayed the start of the game for 90 minutes. Cory Mitchell, who is from Katy, Texas, located just two hours away from Huntsville, led the Eagles with 102 yards on five catches. Sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams threw for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
While many of the names on the Eastern side of the field return, including Adams and his top receiver in 2013, Cooper Kupp on offense, and Ronnie Hamlin on defense, Sam Houston has just a few.
"Only eight players that started against Eastern Washington last year return," SHSU sports information director Paul Ridings, Jr. wrote in an email.
Notable names lost to graduation include the bulk of the Bearkats offense.
Tim Flanders, who rushed for 5,664 career rush yards and 420 points, quarterback Brian Bell 39-13 as a starter, 8,655 career passing yards, 84 TDs and Richard Sincere who contributed 3,887 all-purpose career yards, are all gone.
"We really lost a lot from (our) defense including our All-Southland linebackers Eric Fieilo and Tanner Brock and All-America defensive end Andrew Weaver," Ridings said.
The Bearkats have 53 lettermen returning from last year's team.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.