Monthly archive

March 2021

BIG PLAYS AT BIG TIMES

in College Football

SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Living up to the hype, UMHB overcomes Hardin-Simmons for 16th ASC championship; Tarleton State dominates Northeastern State

With the unprecedented college spring football season turning its spotlight on the closest thing the NCAA Division III would have to a championship game, the eyes of Texas has plenty to cheer about.

As expected, the much-anticipated showdown between the second ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders and 10th-ranked Hardin-Simmons Cowboys in the first-ever American Southwest Conference Championship in Abilene’s Shelton Stadium last Saturday did not disappoint. Coming up with big plays when they needed them most, the Crusaders captured their 16th ASC championship with a 23-15 victory over HSU.

In other NCAA Division III action, East Texas Baptist (3-2) dismantled Texas Lutheran (3-2), 51-20, Belhaven (3-2) dominated at Howard Payne (2-3), 38-17, McMurry (2-3) hit the road to upset Louisiana College (2-3), 32-31, and Sul Ross State (1-4) won the battle of the winless over Southwestern (0-5), 25-16.

In NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) action across Texas, 14th-ranked Nicholls State (4-1) blew out 15th-ranked Incarnate Word (3-1), 75-45, Tarleton State (5-2) rolled over Northwestern State (0-1), 38-0, and Lamar (2-3) hung on to knock off winless Northwestern (0-4), 31-23.

MARY HARDIN-BAYLOR 23 HARDIN-SIMMONS 15

ABILENE – Producing big defensive plays when they needed them the most, the second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders held off the 10th-ranked Hardin-Simmons Cowboys, 23-15, to win the American Southwest Conference Championship Saturday afternoon at Shelton Stadium.

Facing off in the first true conference championship game in league history, UMHB and HSU have played each other in a game that ultimately determined the ASC title every season since 1998.

After the Crusaders (5-0) built a 13-0 halftime lead, Hardin-Simmons (4-1) got on the board on junior running back Marc Reed’s two-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Gatlin Martin on the Cowboys opening possession of the second half to cut the lead. UMHB answered with a nine-play, 56-yard drive capped by sophomore placekicker Brandon Cunningham’s 37-yard field goal. And after a defensive stand, UMHB capitalized when senior wide receiver Brenton Martin found senior tight end Gary Ruckman with a seven-yard touchdown pass to give the Crusaders a 23-7 advantage.

Hardin-Simmons appeared to answer on the next possession as senior quarterback Kyle Jones hit junior wide receiver Rae Millsap for a 63-yard gain, but junior defensive back Jayden Smith punched the ball loose at the goal line to prevent the touchdown and give UMHB the ball back. But after the HSU defense held, the Cowboys marched gain to score on a four-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Myles Featherston and two-point conversion to close the gap. Despite getting the ball back on an interception, Hardin-Simmons failed to capitalize before UMHB ran out the clock and set off a celebration of another conference title.

In his first career start at running back for UMHB, freshman Kenneth Cormier, Jr. ran for a game-high 143 yards, as junior quarterback Kyle King added 56 yards and a score on the ground while completing eight of 15 passes for 148 yards. Defensively, senior linebacker Jacob Mueller led the Cru defense with 12 total tackles and four tackles for loss. For Hardin-Simmons, Jones went 16-for-28 for 242 yards passing and senior running back Kolby Youngblood had 74 yards rushing for the Cowboys.

TARLETON STATE 38, NORTHEASTERN STATE 0

STEPHENVILLE – Notching its 500th victory in program history, the 21st-ranked Tarleton State Texans overwhelmed Northeastern State, 38-0, Saturday at Memorial Stadium for their first shutout for since 2018.

Tarleton State’s defense dominated Northeastern State, limiting the Riverhawks to a season-low 153 yards. In fact, after the Texans surrendered 76 on one play during Northeastern State’s opening drive. Tarleton held the Riverhawks to just 77 yards the rest of the game.

While building a 24-0 lead by late in the third quarter, the Texan offense put up 381 yards on the night, including 199 yards on the ground to control the clock and the game. Senior running back Ryheem Skinner finished with a game-high 118 total yards and two scores, giving him a team-leading six touchdowns on the season.

Redshirt junior quarterback Steven Duncan connected with senior wide receiver Tariq Bitson eight times for 53 yards and a score, while finding junior wide receiver Gabe Douglas for five passes covering 84 yards. Senior linebacker Ronnell Wilson continued to lead the Texan defense as the all-American recorded a team-high eight tackles and had a leaping interception at midfield on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, setting up Duncan’s touchdown pass to Bitson.

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL, UMHB ATHLETICS & HARDIN-SIMMONS ATHLETICS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

in College Football

As the NCAA Division III’s usual suspects in the American Southwest Conference, Hardin-Simmons hosts UMHB in first-ever official conference championship game Saturday

ABILENE – There’s no denying how unusual it has been to witness the first ever NCAA Division III’s spring college football season. But as it has turned out, there’s nothing unusual taking place in the American Southwest Conference.

Unofficially, every meeting between the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders and Hardin-Simmons Cowboys has been for a conference championship since the series between the two began in 1998. After all, the winner of the UMHB-HSU game has gone on to win at least a share of the conference title in each season the two programs have faced off.

But for the first time in conference history, the second ranked Crusaders and 10th-ranked Cowboys will make it official when they face off in the first American Southwest Conference Championship at 1 pm in Abilene’s Shelton Stadium on the Hardin-Simmons campus.

“It usually comes down to the championship game between us and Hardin Simmons so it’s nothing unusual,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg, who has compiled a 215-39 record in 22 seasons as the only head coach in the history of the UMHB football program and currently ranks among the top five active Division III head coaches in career victories. “Obviously there is a big time boost in effort and energy anytime you play Hardin Simmons and I’m sure it’s the same for them.”

Winning the ASC East Division, UMHB wrapped up a 4-0 regular season with a 65-20 victory over Louisiana College last Saturday. Boasting the fifth-ranked offensive unit in the nation, the Crusaders average 49.0 points per game while giving up only 13.8 points per game.

Led by 10th-year head coach Jesse Burleson, Hardin-Simmons captured the ASC West Division title with a perfect 4-0 regular season of its own by beating Sul Ross State, 58-6, last Saturday in Alpine. The Cowboys bring the seventh-ranked prolific offense into the game, averaging 45.3 points per game while rolling up a whopping 544.3 yards of total offense per game featuring a balanced attack. Defensively, Hardin-Simmons ranks eighth in the nation by limiting opponents to only 10.3 points per game and a measly 215.8 total yards per game.

With UMHB proving victorious in the last six meetings, the Cowboys rank as the last ASC team to beat UMHB by posting a 29-26 victory in week eight of the 2015 regular season. Most recently, the Cru posted a thrilling 15-14 win over HSU last season in Belton. Having won 21 of the last 23 meetings, UMHB leads the all-time series with Hardin-Simmons with a 21-6 record.

“There is always just a different feeling around here when it is Hardin-Simmons week,” Fredenburg said. “We have so much respect for their program and this has really developed into a great rivalry. There is an intensity to this week in everything we do in terms of preparation and our players have to rise to the occasion.

Moving the football season to the spring forced a change in the ASC format, splitting the conference’s football programs into two divisions and creating the opportunity for a true conference championship game. But regardless of the circumstances and format, it always feels like a championship game when these two programs face off on the football field.

“We face a huge challenge this week in a very good Hardin-Simmons team,” Fredenburg said. “But we also feel like we did some good things last week against Louisiana College. One of the goals for this program every year is to go out and win a championship. We have an opportunity to do that this weekend, and that’s why you do this – to have the opportunity to coach and play in these types of games.”

UMHB will provide free live video streaming and Hardin-Simmons will offer live statistics for the game with access to the stream available at: http://portal.stretchinternet.com/umhb/. Saturday’s game will also be broadcast live on Fox Sports Radio (93.9 FM/1330 AM) and through the station’s website with the pre-game show starting at 12:30 PM.

Photos courtesy of UMHB ATHLETICS & HARDIN-SIMMONS ATHLETICS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 19

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Hardin-Simmons hosts UMHB in NCAA Division III’s ASC Championship game; Tarleton State debuts on AFCA Top 25 National Poll

As unusual as the unprecedented spring college football season for the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and NCAA Division III has been, some things still remain the same.

In a matchup that has determined the American Southwest Conference champion in every season since 1998, the second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (4-0) will travel to Abilene to face the 10th-ranked Hardin-Simmons Cowboys (4-0) in the ASC Championship Game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Shelton Stadium.

The winner of the UMHB-HSU game has gone on to win at least a share of every ASC Championship since the Cru started football in 1998. UMHB advanced to the ASC Championship Game by winning the East Division, while Hardin-Simmons won the West Division. The West Division also won the coin flip prior to the season for the right to host the ASC title game.

In other Division III action, Texas Lutheran (3-1) travels to East Texas Baptist (2-2); Belhaven (2-2) visits Howard Payne (2-2); Louisiana College (2-2) hosts McMurry (1-3), and the battle of the winless features Southwestern (0-4) at Sul Ross State (0-4).

Throughout the unprecedented spring football season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

With only two games remaining in its inaugural season as an NCAA Division I football program, the 24th-ranked Tarleton State Texans (4-2) will be home on Saturday to host Northeastern State (OK) at 6 p.m. on Saturday. On the strength of their 33-21 rout of longtime rival Midwestern State on Homecoming in Stephenville last weekend, the Texans cracked the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) National Top 25 poll for the first time.

Other FCS games feature 15th-ranked Incarnate Word (3-0) visits 14th-ranked Nicholls State (3-1) in a battle for supremacy in the Southland Conference, Lamar (1-3) hosts Northwestern State (0-3), while Prairie View A&M (2-0) travels to Jackson State (3-1) in the Southwest Athletic Conference.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

For the record, Gridiron Gurus’ friendly battle for bragging right during the “real” fall football season came down to the final game of the season, the Super Bowl. With both Wade and Brett amazingly tied after picking 245 games going into Super Bowl LV, Wade correctly picked Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset Brett’s choice and favorites, the Kansas City Chiefs. Congrats, Wade.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

BATTLING AN UPHILL CLIMB

in Baseball/Spring Sports

After surviving a slow start, the Clifton Cubs look to climb into the middle of District 17-3A baseball chase at West Trojans Friday

Playing in the same district with two Class 3A top 10 teams, the young Clifton Cub baseball club knew they would have to do a lot of growing up quick to be in the running for a postseason berth. But more than most, the Cubs entered the 2021 season trying to overcome the lasting impact the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown last March had on Clifton’s baseball program.

But after opening the season with a 10-game losing streak, the Cubs have split their last six games. And in the process, Clifton finds itself on the verge of climbing right into the middle of the District 17-3A playoff chase as the Cubs (1-2 in district, 3-12 overall) prepare to visit the West Trojans (1-3, 6-10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Coming into the season, the Cubs claimed only three returning starters – senior Devin Byrd, junior Griffin Phillips and junior Matthew Bronstad – and one returning letterman – junior Jorge Rodriguez. With only two seniors on the roster, the Cubs field one of the youngest teams since Slater took over at Clifton. And without the benefit of gaining experience last season, the Cubs entered the season playing catch-up – returning players and newcomers alike.

“Not getting to complete the 2020 season was disappointing for a couple of reasons,” Clifton baseball head coach Brian Slater said. “First of all, last year’s seniors did not get to end their athletic careers on the field. And secondly, the younger guys missed out on an opportunity to play more games and practice to help with their development for this season.

“First of all, we’re appreciative that we are able to have a season with the pandemic still going on and the way last year ended. But with the season shortened last year and the winter storm bringing things to a halt, we are a little behind where we need to be right now and I expect a few growing pains early.”

After suffering five straight blowout losses to open the season, the Cubs became competitive in the Rogers Tournament March 4-6, losing the first three games by a total of four runs before getting blanked by Class 4A Gatesville.

“Obviously, as for wins and losses, it is not the start that we had hoped for,” Slater said. “We played better overall this weekend in Rogers, and we are showing signs of improvement. As a team we are looking at being more consistent in everything we do. We gave ourselves three chances at wins this weekend and were not able to make the plays at the end to secure the victory.”

Despite dropping their district opener at Whitney March 9, the Cubs snapped the 10-game skid with a hard fought 8-8 victory over Valley Mills in the opener of the Whitney Tournament held March 11-13.

Falling behind 4-0 in the first inning, Clifton battled back to tie the game in the third before taking an 8-5 lead in the top of the sixth. But after surrendering two runs in the bottom of the sixth, Bronstad worked out of a jam to pitch a complete game and secure Clifton’s first win of the season. Byrd and senior Elias Tebo knocked in two runs each while Rodriguez and sophomore Mason Williams scored twice apiece as the Cubs managed only three hits but capitalized by drawing nine walks.

“Sometimes, the hardest win is getting the first one,” Slater said. “The kids need to understand that we got better yesterday, and that we need to keep improving and stay on that upward trajectory. We need to keep playing with confidence and make sure we are playing to win and expecting to win.”

Battling from behind again, the Cubs wasted a solid pitching performance from Byrd by committing four errors and surrendering six unearned runs in a 7-6 loss to Tolar. Sophomore Trent Guinn and Williams contributed two runs batted in each, while Phillips lead Clifton at the plate by going three of four with an RBI and a runs scored.

The Cubs came right back to close the Whitney Tournament out with a win, using a six-run inning to slug their way past Waco Connally, 9-5. Rodriguez went three for four at the plate with two RBI, while Bronstad went two for four with an RBI and a run scored. On the mound, Rodriguez and Williams combined to allow no earned runs while striking out nine.

“Good news is that we’re in district now,” Slater said. “So what anyone has done during non-district and tournaments is irrelevant record wise. We look forward to the challenge and look to continue to get better. I am proud of the character and fight we have shown so far through this tough start.”

Using the momentum built at the Whitney Tournament, the Cubs posted their first district win with a come-from-behind 13-9 decision over Riesel last Tuesday during Spring Break. In a see-saw battle that produced four lead changes, Clifton scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth to recapture the lead before Phillips shutdown Riesel in the seventh to secure the win in relief of Bronstad.

While the Cubs did not give up a single base on balls, Clifton drew 16 free passes as Bronstad walked four times and sophomore Jackson Newton three times. With runners on base, Phillips drove in seven runs going three for four with two double and a grand slam home run while Tebo went two for four to collect two RBIs.

Although Clifton dropped back-to-back games to third-ranked and district-leading Troy (4-0, 16-1) and sixth-ranked Grandview (11-2-1) in a non-district clash Tuesday night, the Cubs find themselves in the mix for a playoff berth in District 17-3A. Behind Troy, eighth-ranked Lorena (3-0, 11-3-1) and Whitney (2-1, 11-5), Clifton must overcome West, Riesel (1-3, 3-9-1) and McGregor (0-3, 6-8) down the stretch.

“We just want to concentrate on getting better every day and playing our best in district,” Slater said. “The expectation in Clifton is always to make the playoffs, and that is not going to change this year. We are in a tough district as usual. But we feel like if we keep improving and play our best in March and April that we will have a chance to compete for one those four playoff spots.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SURGING TO THE TOP

in College Football

SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Tarleton State becomes winningest NCAA scholarship program in Texas since 2018; Incarnate Word shocks SE Louisiana

Playing in its long-awaited 60th annual homecoming football game at Stephenville’s Memorial Stadium Saturday, the Tarleton State Texans became the winningest NCAA scholarship program in the state of Texas since 2018 with a convincing 33-21 victory over longtime rival Midwestern State.

With the unprecedented college spring football season heading toward the homestretch, the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and NCAA Division III races have seen the cream rising to the top.

In other FCS action across Texas, Southern (2-1) rolled over Texas Southern (0-2), 51-23, Incarnate Word (3-0) shocked 16th-ranked Southeastern La. (2-1), 56-45, in a shootout, Sam Houston State (3-0) destroyed Lamar (1-3), 62-7, and McNeese State (1-3) earned its first win of the season at Northwestern State (0-3), 21-7

Earning a berth in the American Southwest Conference Championship game, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (4-0) dominated second place Louisiana College (2-2), 65-20, to clinch the ASC East title at Belton’s Crusader Stadium.

In other NCAA Division III action, the American Southwest Conference featured ASC West champion Hardin-Simmons (4-0) crushing Sul Ross State (0-4), 58-6, on the road, while Howard Payne (2-2) eased past McMurry (1-3), 24-3.

TARLETON STATE 33, MIDWESTERN STATE 21

STEPHENVILLE – Jumping out to an early 13-0 lead, the Tarleton State Texans hung on for a 33-21 homecoming victory over rival Midwestern State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium to become the winningest scholarship NCAA program in the state of Texas since 2018

Breaking a tie with Texas A&M, the Texans (4-2) posted its 27th win with two games left in the 2021 spring schedule.

Redshirt junior quarterback Steven Duncan threw three touchdown passes as the Texan offense compiled 414 yards of total offense and 27 first-half points to cruise past the visiting Mustangs. In the meantime, Tarleton State’s defense limited Midwestern State to only 191 yards of total.

Finishing by completing 20 of 28 passes for 183 yards, Duncan has thrown for 530 yards completing 43 of 61 passes for seven touchdowns and no turnovers over the last two games.

A game after a 200-yard performance, senior wide receiver Tariq Bitson hauled in 83 yards on six catches and two touchdowns. Senior running back Ryheem Skinner ran for 102 yards and a score, the third time in four games he’s topped 100 this season.

Defensively, senior linebacker Ronnell Wilson and sophomore linebacker DJ Harris led the Texans with six tackles each, followed by senior linebacker Zech Hopkins also had five solo tackles.

In a series that dates back to 1926, Tarleton now owns the all-time 23-12-1 lead, including a 13-4 advantage in Stephenville. Tarleton and Midwestern State began competing as junior college rivals and have squared off in every season since 2004, including a 35-34 overtime win to clinch the 2018 NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference Championship.

INCARNATE WORD 56, SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA 45

SAN ANTONIO – Igniting for 28 unanswered points in the middle of the game, the 22nd-ranked Incarnate Word Cardinals surged to shock 16th-ranked Southeastern Louisiana, 56-45, in a wild shootout Saturday.

With the win, Incarnate Word (3-0) earned a share of their first Southland Conference title since 2018 after winning their first three conference games of the season.

Freshman quarterback Cameron Ward set a school record with seven touchdowns, rushing for one score and throwing for six more while completing 26 of 47 passes for 407 yards. With Ward leading the potent offensive attack, the Cardinals have averaged 596 total yards of offense while putting an incredible 48.7 points per game.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Wolf hauled in eight passes for 183 yards and caught a 26-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left in the first half to send UIW to the locker room with a 35-16 lead. Senior running back Kevin Brown rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

UIW will now play two of the top teams in the Southland over its final three games, beginning with a trip to Thibodaux, La. to meet Nicholls next week in the Cardinals last road game of the regular season.

If the Cardinals defeat the Colonels next week and Northwestern State at home on April 10, it will set up a possible winner-take the Southland Conference title showdown with Sam Houston on April 17.

SAM HOUSTON STATE 62, LAMAR 7

BEAUMONT – Redshirt sophomore quarterback Eric Schmid accounted for six touchdowns to lead the seventh-ranked Sam Houston Bearkats to an overwhelming 62-7 victory over Lamar Saturday night at Provost-Umphrey Stadium.

Senior wide receiver Jequez Ezzard produced 215 all-purpose yards and three scores on just six touches as the Bearkats (3-0) built up a 38-0 halftime lead and finished off the youthful Cardinals (1-3) in convincing fashion. With the win, the Bearkats remained tied with Incarnate Word at the top of the Southland Conference.

MARY HARDIN-BAYLOR 65 LOUISIANA COLLEGE 20

BELTON – Clinching the outright American Southwest Conference East Division title, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders crushed second place Louisiana College, 65-20, Saturday afternoon in Belton’s Crusader Stadium.

With the win, UMHB (4-0) advances to next weekend’s ASC Championship Game against West Division champion Hardin-Simmons.

Holding a 34-20 advantage just before halftime, the Crusaders scored 31 unanswered points to seal the win. Junior quarterback Kyle King threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more as UMHB rolled up 539 yards of total offense with 298 of those coming through the air.

The Cru defense forced three turnovers and recorded four sacks. Senior linebacker Jacob Mueller finished with a team-high 10 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

The Cru will now advance to the ASC Championship Game next Saturday to face Hardin-Simmons for the conference title at 1 p.m. in Abilene’s Shelton Stadium. The winner of the UMHB-HSU game has gone on to win at least a share of every ASC Championship since the Cru started football in 1998.

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL, UMHB ATHLETICS, SAM HOUSTON STATE ATHLETICS & INCARNATE WORD ATHLETICS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 18

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Tarleton State hosts Midwestern State for first FCS Homecoming game in Stephenville; UMHB faces Louisiana College looking to secure berth in ASC Championship

Battling longtime NCAA Division II Midwestern State, the Tarleton State Texans will play their first Homecoming game as a NCAA Division I program at 6 p.m. Saturday in Stephenville’s Memorial Stadium.

While the Texans (3-2) have enjoyed success in a loaded spring schedule, Midwestern State (1-0) plays an abbreviated spring football schedule after the Lone Star Conference unanimously voted to postpone football operations in the fall. Coming off an impressive 37-15 rematch victory over Dixie State, Tarleton State enters the sixth week of its inaugural season in NCAA Division I after having its regularly slated fall football slate postponed due to COVID-19.

Looking to earn a berth in the American Southwest Conference Championship game with a win, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (3-0) will host ASC East second place Louisiana College (2-1) at noon Saturday in Belton’s Crusader Stadium. In the regular season finale, a UMHB win also clinches at least a share of the ASC East Division title.

Other FCS games feature Alabama A&M (2-0) at Prairie View A&M (2-0), Southern (1-1) visiting Texas Southern (0-1), Southeastern La. (2-1) traveling to Incarnate Word (2-0), Lamar (1-2) hosting Sam Houston State (2-0), and Northwestern State (0-2) taking on McNeese State (0-3).

In Division III, the ASC features Hardin-Simmons (3-0) visiting Sul Ross State (0-3), and Howard Payne (1-2) hosting McMurry (1-2).

Throughout the spring, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

For the record, Gridiron Gurus’ friendly battle for bragging right during the “real” fall football season came down to the final game of the season, the Super Bowl. With both Wade and Brett amazingly tied after picking 245 games going into Super Bowl LV, Wade correctly picked Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset Brett’s choice and favorites, the Kansas City Chiefs. Congrats, Wade.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

EARNING HOOP HONORS

in Basketball/Spring Sports

Clifton junior Seth Payne named District 17-3A boys basketball Offensive MVP, senior Luis Rodriquez named to first-team, junior Griffin Phillips placed on second-team

Although the Clifton Cub boys basketball team came up just short of qualifying for the Class 3A state playoffs for the first time in 16 years, the Cubs earned accolades for their efforts.

Leading the way among the All-District 17-3A honors, junior Seth Payne was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player, senior Luis Rodriguez earned first-team, all-district recognition, while junior Griffin Phillips was placed on the second-team, all-district. Honorable mention recognition went to senior Cameron Bateson and junior Jorge Rodriguez.

Clifton players named to the Academic All-District squad included Cameron Bateson, Makail Brandenberger, Ellison Li, Seth Payne, Griffin Phillips and Will Simmons.

As Clifton (4-8 in district, 14-9 overall) finished fifth in district behind postseason qualifiers Lorena, West, Riesel and McGregor, Payne led the Clifton in scoring (19.0 points per game), rebounding (8.8), assists (5.0) and steals (2.3), followed by Phillips with 9.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds, and Rodriguez with 8.3 points per game.

After a rash of injuries in district stalled a promising start during the 2019-20 season, the Cubs open the 2020-21 season with a 10-game winning streak and looked impressive outscoring opponents by 15.9 points per game.

“I don’t think anyone expects to win 10 straight to start the season,” Clifton boys basketball head coach Tom Daniel said. “But I know these guys and how hard they play together, how hard they fight and how much they wanted it. So, it didn’t shock me that we got off to that start.”

But then, the Cubs were shut down due to Covid-19 precaution protocols the week before the Christmas break. After re-emerging from an 18-day hiatus, the Cubs dropped back-to-back District 17-3A games to McGregor, 32-27, and Riesel, 61-45. After rebounding to knock off Troy, 58-48, on Jan. 5, Clifton closed out the first round of district with three straight losses to West, Lorena and Whitney before falling at McGregor, 43-27, to open the second round.

Snapping a four-game skid, the Cubs won three of their last five games to battle back into postseason contention with back-to-back wins, outlasting Riesel, 52-46, in overtime, and dominating Troy, 57-22.

But dropping two straight at home against West, 57-43, and Lorena, 48-41, eliminated Clifton before closing out the season with a 60-45 victory over Whitney.

While the Cubs stayed at home, District 17-3A champion Lorena (12-0, 26-6) just missed a trip to the Class 3A State Tournament March 12-13 in San Antonio’s Alamodome, losing in the Regional Semifinals to East Chambers.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight every night out,” Daniel said. “We had Lorena coming into the district after moving down from 4A, and Riesel won their district last year. Every team in our district was solid.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

RISING TO THE NEXT LEVEL

in College Football

SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Tarleton avenges early season FCS loss to Dixie State; Sam Houston State shocks seventh-ranked Nicholls State

With the unprecedented college spring football season in full swing, the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and NCAA Division III races have begun to take shape.

Playing its first season as a NCAA Division I (FCS) program, Tarleton State (3-2) avenged an early season home loss by dominating future Western Athletic Conference (WAC) rival Dixie State, 37-15, last Saturday. But Sam Houston State delivered the showcase shocker by destroying seventh-ranked Nicholls State, 71-17.

In other FCS action across Texas, new head coach Blane Morgan earned his first win as Lamar (1-2) edged McNeese State (0-3), 27-26, in overtime in the Southland Conference’s final Battle of the Border rivalry game, while Prairie View A&M (2-0) outlasted visiting Grambling State (0-2), 17-10.

Clinching the right to host the NCAA Division III’s American Southwest Conference Championship game, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys rolled past Howard Payne, 41-14, last Saturday.

In other NCAA Division III action, the American Southwest Conference (ASC) featured Louisiana College (2-1) slipping past winless Southwestern (0-3), 34-31, while Texas Lutheran (3-1) crushed McMurry (1-2), 51-21. In Southern Athletic Association (SAA), Trinity (Tex) (3-1) rolled past Birmingham-Southern (Ark) (2-2), 38-15, on the road, while Centre (Ken) (2-2) handed Austin College (1-3) a disappointing, 44-20, defeat Sunday afternoon.

TARLETON STATE 37, DIXIE STATE 15

ST.GEORGE, Utah – So much for “home sweet home.” In the second meeting of the season between future WAC rivals Tarleton State and Dixie State, the Texans served up a dish of cold revenge by dominating the Trailblazers in their home opener 37-15 at Greater Zion Stadium.

Led by the dynamic passing combo of junior quarterback Steven Duncan and senior widereceiver Tariq Bitson, the Texans (3-2) jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead on their way to rolling up 514 yards of total offense while shutting down the prolific Dixie State offense.

“We played really well on offense and took care of the football,” Tarelton State head coach Todd Whitten said. “We didn’t have any turnovers until very late in the game. I thought our defense was absolutely outstanding.”

Defensively, sophomore Linebacker D.J. Harris led the Texans with 12 tackles, while senior linebacker Ronnell Wilson added eight more to his career total, moving him past Ranardrick Phillips and Tony Tuck to No. 9 on Tarleton’s all-time tackle list. In the process, Tarleton State limited Dixie State to and unproductive 364 yards of total offense, including only 226 over the first three quarters.

Duncan completed 23 of 33 passes for a career-high 347 yards and four touchdowns, hooking up with Bitson 12 times for a career-high 202 yards and two scores. Senior Running back Ryheem Skinner led the rushing attack with 74 yards on 22 carries, while Adrian Guzman nailed three fields, including a booming a 45-yarder in the first half.

Bitson became just the second Texan since 2010 with 200 yards receiving in a game, joining Zimari Manning (257 at UT Permian Basin in 2019). Bitson and Manning were both All-Americans in 2019.

“Dixie State has one of the top two or three pass offenses in the country, and our defense shut them down,” Whitten said. “A lot of credit to Coach (Marcus) Patton, the defensive staff and our players. We still need to finish better on offense, but we had over 500 yards and 37 points. So all in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with our football program.”

SAM HOUSTON 71, NICHOLLS STATE 17

HUNTSVILLE – Despite falling behind early, the 12th-ranked Sam Houston State Bearkats took firm grip of the driver’s seat for a Southland Conference title with an overwhelming 71-17 victory over seventh-ranked Nicholls State Saturday.

Scoring 30 unanswered points to overcome an early deficit, Sam Houston (2-0) tied the game with 3:01 left in the opening quarter and scored 64 of the remaining 74 points to dismantle Nicholls State (2-1). The win gives SHSU a resume boost as they seek a return to the FCS playoffs.

Bearkat quarterback Eric Schmid completed 21 of 32 passes for 366 yards and six touchdowns. connecting with nine different receivers – one shy of setting a single-game program record. Sam Houston State’s victory proved to be the largest against a top-10 foe since 2011, and the Bearkats defense became a major force in the blowout. Holding the vaunted Colonels rushing attack to 118 yards, the Bearkats pressured Nicholls quarterbacks all game.

HARDIN-SIMMONS 41, HOWARD PAYNE 14

ABILENE – Clinching the right to host the American Southwest Conference Championship game, Hardin-Simmons destroyed Howard Payne, 41-14, Saturday at Shelton Stadium.

Quarterback Kyle Jones completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as the Cowboys rolled up 601 yards of total offense. Piling up 324 yards on the ground, Marc Reed led the Cowboys with 114 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, followed by Kolby Youngblood with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown, as well as Myles Featherston with 78 yards and a score.

Defensively, Matt Mitchell enjoyed his best day as a Cowboy with 13 tackles, followed by Dedrick Strambler with 12 stops as the Cowboy defense held the Yellowjackets to 287 total yards. The Cowboys will host the ASC Championship game March 27 against the winner of the Mary Hardin-Baylor-Louisiana College game this week.

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALLUMHB ATHLETICS & HARDIN-SIMMONS ATHLETICS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 17

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Tarleton State seeks redemption in second FCS clash against Dixie State; Division III features Howard Payne visiting ASC West leader Hardin-Simmons

During the unprecedented college spring football season, the unusual has become the norm. Headlining this week’s NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) slate of games, the Tarleton State Texans head to Utah aiming to avenge a disappointing 26-14 loss just two weeks ago to FCS Independent and future Western Athletic Conference rival Dixie State.

That’s right, spring football fans, the Texans (2-2) will face the Trailblazers (1-1) for the second time this season at 8 p.m. Saturday at Greater Zion Stadium in St. George.

After suffering just its third home loss since the beginning of 2018, Tarleton rebounded last Saturday afternoon with a dominating 39-14 victory over the Mississippi College Choctaws. This marks the first time that Tarleton has scheduled the same team in the regular season twice since 1990. The Texans have played the same opponent in the same season since then on multiple occasions in seeded, playoff settings.

In a key NCAA Division III showdown in the American Southwest Conference West, Hardin-Simmons (2-0) hosts Howard Payne (1-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Shelton Stadium in Abilene.

The Cowboys can clinch the right to host the American Southwest Conference Championship game with a win on Saturday. Under new head coach Jason Bachtel, Howard Payne comes into the game leading the ASC in scoring with 45.5 points per game, while Hardin-Simmons leads the ASC defensively by allowing just 10.5 points per game.

Throughout the spring, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

Other FCS games feature Lamar (0-2) at McNeese State (0-2), Sam Houston State (1-0) hosting Nicholls State (2-0), and Prairie View A&M (1-0) making up its clash with Grambling State (0-1).

In Division III, the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) features Austin College (1-2) hosts Centre (Kan.) (1-2), Trinity (Tx) (2-1) travels to Birmingham-Southern (Ark.) (2-1), while the ASC offers Southwestern (0-2) visits Louisiana College (1-1), and Texas Lutheran (2-1) takes on McMurry (1-1).

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

For the record, Gridiron Gurus’ friendly battle for bragging right during the “real” fall football season came down to the final game of the season, the Super Bowl. With both Wade and Brett amazingly tied after picking 245 games going into Super Bowl LV, Wade correctly picked Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset Brett’s choice and favorites, the Kansas City Chiefs. Congrats, Wade.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

BOUNCING BACK ABUNDANTLY

in College Football

SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Tarleton rebounds to blast Mississippi College in FCS tilt; Hardin-Simmons lassos Texas Lutheran in NCAA DIII showcase, UMHB continues rolling undefeated

Seeking normalcy in the most unusual of situations, weather conditions turned mildly spring-like across the state of Texas last week as the threat of COVID-19 appeared to be subsiding, allowing the unprecedented college spring football season to play a full slate of games in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and NCAA Division III.

Playing its first season as a NCAA Division I (FCS) program, Tarleton State (2-2) continued to grab the spotlight with an impressive 39-14 victory over Mississippi College (0-1) last Saturday. In other FCS action across Texas, Prairie View A&M (1-0) edged Texas Southern (0-1) in dramatic fashion, 20-19; and Incarnate Word (2-0) rolled over Lamar (0-2), 42-20.

In NCAA Division III action, Anthony Aviles nailed a 27-yard field goal with 2:12 remaining in the game as Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-0) remained undefeated with a hard-fought 30-28 road victory over East Texas Baptist (2-2) Saturday.

In what many considered the game of the week, Hardin-Simmons dominated Texas Lutheran, 33-14, while Austin College (1-2) claimed its first win of the season by defeating Millsaps (0-3), 27-17; Howard Payne (1-1) blasted Sul Ross State (0-3), 53-14, and Hendrix (Ark) remained undefeated (2-0) with a 13-3 victory over Trinity (Tx) (2-1).

TARLETON STATE 39, MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE 14

STEPHENVILLE – Making the most of Family Weekend at Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon, the Tarleton State Texans scored 21 unanswered first quarter points on their way to an impressive 39-14 victory over Mississippi College.

After scoring on their first offensive possession of the game, the Texans (2-2) capitalized on back-to-back defensive scores to build a 21-0 advantage just six minutes into the game.

“To get a win was big for us right now – we’ve been struggling a bit,” Tarleton State head coach Todd Whitten. “That was priority number one. And any time you play a triple option team it’s going to be a difficult week, and I was very proud of the way our defense played. And I was pretty pleased with the way we played on offense.”

After teaming up on a 50-yard completion to move into the red zone, quarterback Steven Duncan connected with wide receiver J.F. Thomas for a 15-yard touchdown pass to cap a seven-play, 80-yard drive to open the game. Defensively, Tarleton State quickly turned two Choctaw fumbles into scores as Zech Hopkins found the end zone on a 60-yard return before Benjie Franklin returned another 48 yards.

That would prove to be all the points the Texans would need for victory. Duncan completed 18 of 28 passes for 259 yards with a touchdown, Skinner led the ground game with 24 carries for 106 yards and a score, and Thomas hauled in a team-high four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Ronnell Wilson led the Texans with a career high with 22 tackles – six stops short of tying Tally Neal’s single-game record for tackles (28) set in 1975 – and forced two fumbles.

UMHB 30, EAST TEXAS BAPTIST 28

MARSHALL – Staying undefeated in the American Southwest Conference, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders took the lead late and held off a last-ditch effort to edge East Texas Baptist 30-28. With the win, UMHB clinches at least a share of the ASC East Division title.

Although the Crusaders (3-0) enjoyed a 27-7 lead with 5:47 left in the third quarter, East Texas Baptist (2-2) rallied for 21 unanswered points to hold a one-point advantage with 7:26 remaining in the game. UMHB answered with Anthony Aviles’ 37-yard field goal with 2:12 on the clock, then the Cru defense forced a turnover to preserve the win.

UMHB allowed a team to score more than 20 points in the regular season for the first time since ETBU put 21 on the board in the 2017 regular season finale. The Tigers rolled up 384 yards of total offense, but the Cru defense countered by forcing six turnovers.

Freshman running back Montana Miller led UMHB with 50 rushing yards on 11 carries, junior quarterback Kyle King hit five of 13 passes for 81 yards, and senior wide receiver Brenton Martin hauled in four catches for 68 yards. Defensively, senior linebacker Mikkah Hackett led the Cru defense with 12, while senior defensive back Jefferson Fritz added two interceptions to his UMHB and ASC career record.

HARDIN-SIMMONS 33, TEXAS LUTHERAN 14

ABILENE – After opening the game by scoring 19 unanswered points, Hardin-Simmons rolled to an impressive 33-14 victory over Texas Lutheran Saturday in its first game played at Shelton Stadium in 16 months.

Scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, the Cowboys added a defensive safety in the first quarter before tacking on Jamie Pogue’s 33-yard field goal to quickly build a comfortable lead.

“That’s crucial,” Hardin-Simmons head coach Jesse Burleson said. “You obviously want to score every possession, but that first one sets the tone for the day. I thought we put together some good mix of runs and passes to get that thing in the end zone.”

In the last game at Shelton Stadium on Nov. 16, 2019, the Cowboys beat Southwestern 49-6. Originally scheduled to open the 2020 season at home against Sul Ross State on Sept. 5, Hardin-Simmons saw the season get pushed back to the spring due to pandemic concerns.

Then, the spring season was supposed to begin at home Feb. 13 against Howard Payne, but weather postponed that game, moving the home opener back by three weeks.

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL, UMHB ATHLETICS & HARDIN-SIMMONS ATHLETICS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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