It was September 2017 and Nicholls was in the middle of a celebration many in Thibodaux never thought they’d see. Just three years earlier the Colonels were one of the worst teams in Division I college football, and maybe a few lower divisions, too.
But over the previous few years coach Tim Rebowe lifted Nicholls from the depths of systemic terribleness to its first Top 25 ranking in who knows how long. The No. 23 Colonels were 2-1 with the only loss coming by 10 points to Texas A&M and feeling confident that this would be the year they ended Sam Houston’s decade-long win streak in the Southland Conference series.
It was not.
Just as quickly as Nicholls ascended into the upper echelon of FCS teams it fell out of the Top 25 by Monday after a 66-17 thrashing at the hands of the No. 3 Bearkats.
Nicholls would bounce back later in the season to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2005, but that game would act as a wake-up call that a momentary hot streak does not equal a national powerhouse.
"We got our you know what whipped," senior quarterback Chase Fourcade said of the game two years later. "I just think our first time being ranked, going into an environment like that against a powerhouse team like Sam Houston, we thought we were the you know what.
"I thought we had a really good game plan going in. I thought the first drive was a really good drive. We went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. Maybe 5 seconds later they throw a post route for a touchdown and all hell broke loose. It was kind of like our first time being ranked, we thought we were there. Obviously we weren’t there yet."
If the Colonels weren’t there yet in 2017, then 2019 is a different story entirely.
It’s No. 9 Nicholls that’s the national power and defending Southland Conference champs. The Colonels have been to back-to-back FCS playoffs and are the current leader to retake the league’s automatic bid again this season with a 3-0 start to SLC play.
Oh, and they also beat Sam Houston, 27-7, in Thibodaux last season, marking the first series win since 2005, coincidentally the same year they last won the Southland.
Meanwhile Sam Houston drifted in and out (and in and out again) of the Top 25 this season and missed out on the postseason in 2017. Just last week the Bearkats suffered a triple-overtime loss to Lamar that again knocked them out of both major polls.
But the Colonels are not the same team it was two years ago and they have not forgot the lesson Sam Houston taught them about being overconfident against one of the Southland’s best teams.
Just moments after beating Northwestern State this past Saturday, Fourcade spoke of wanting "revenge" on Sam Houston for the last time Nicholls went to Texas. Beating the Bearkats last season was nice, but Fourcade doesn’t want to go out with a losing record in the series over four years.
Rebowe took a more diplomatic stance saying the team won’t explicitly push past games as motivation — both the loss in 2017 or the win in 2018 — but expects a few of the older players who remember 2017 to let newcomers know what it’s like playing Sam Houston at home.
"They’ve been kind of, along with some other schools like McNeese, they were the benchmark in how to win the Southland Conference, go deep into the playoffs and play for national championships," Rebowe said. "So when you look at those programs, you want to have the success they had. They had our number the last couple years. It’s no secret what happened two years ago when we went over there. We were just into the Top 25. They spanked us pretty good. Last year we got the best of them over here."
Regardless of Nicholls’ national ranking, ESPN lists Sam Houston as the favorite with a 3-point spread on the game. It’s not without backing, either.
Sam Houston has not lost to a Top 10 team at home since 2002, taking all six contests against the FCS elite in that time. The Bearkats also haven’t lost to Nicholls at home since 2002 or lost back-to-back home games against any opponent since 2010.
And while Nicholls comes into the game with the Southland’s top rushing offense, the Bearkats claim one of the best rushing defenses in the country, promising a clash of the titans on Saturday.
"It’s going to be a great matchup," Sam Houston coach K.C. Keeler said to beat writer Josh Criswell of the Huntsville Item this week. "It’s going to be one of the best offenses in the country just in how steady they are, how methodical they are against what I think is the best defense in the country. This defense has kept us in these ball games the past couple weeks and they need to do it again this week."