BELTON — Struggling teams can present the most difficult challenges.
After all, they have nothing to lose.
No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor has defeated several trying teams this season, avenging consecutive playoff losses with a victory against Wesley, traveling to Louisiana College to win a matchup of top 25 teams and beating Hardin-Simmons on Saturday to claim sole possession of first place in the American Southwest Conference standings.
But that might have been the easy part, according to Crusaders head coach Pete Fredenburg, who voiced concern at his weekly news conference about his upcoming game against a one-win Howard Payne team.
“I had a full head of hair until I started playing teams like (Howard Payne),” the coach said. “It always worries me.”
And it should.
In 2005, the Crusaders took a No. 2 national ranking into Brownwood to face a 1-3 Yellow Jackets squad coming off a 45-20 loss to Hardin-Simmons. Howard Payne upset Mary Hardin-Baylor 24-20, giving the Crusaders their only regular-season loss.
Compounding Fredenburg’s apprehension about facing a desperate Howard Payne (1-6, 1-3 ASC) is the fact he feels his team has become somewhat content during its perfect start to the season.
“We got to a point where we were executing things, but we were not executing as crisply as we need to,” Fredenburg said. “As a coach, you question why. We just kind of take things for granted sometime, and that is what you fight when you are undefeated. You fight complacency. You fight apathy. That is a chore, and that is our challenge this week.”
Against Hardin-Simmons, the Crusaders (7-0, 4-0) fell into a second-half hole for the first time all season, but the one-point deficit did not last long, as the defense clamped down in the fourth quarter, and Mary Hardin-Baylor scored the final 14 points to win 45-32.
Despite all the success against Hardin-Simmons, the game left Fredenburg with an uneasy feeling.
“I think, at times, they were outplaying us and outcoaching us,” Fredenburg said. “We all had a little bit of a wake-up call. As we’ve said all along, we need to get better every week, and I don’t think that we did get better this week. It is something we needed to address, and we have.”
If history is any indication, the Crusaders should find success at Brownwood. Mary Hardin-Baylor is 12-2 all-time in the series, winning six consecutive games against the Yellow Jackets dating back to the upset loss in 2005. Additionally, the Crusaders have won 31 consecutive regular-season games, 23 consecutive ASC games and 15 consecutive regular-season road games.