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
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