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
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