BELTON — This certainly sounds familiar.
Mary Hardin-Baylor and Hardin-Simmons will — for all intents and purposes — decide the American Southwest Conference championship when the third-ranked Crusaders (6-0, 3-0) host the eighth-ranked Cowboys (6-0, 3-0) on Saturday afternoon in the 23rd meeting between the longtime rivals.
UMHB has dominated the series of late, winning 16 of the last 18 matchups, but that wasn’t always the case. The Crusaders lost the first four meetings, including a painful defeat in 2001 that still resonates around Andersen Field House.
With the game tied at 7-all with 10 minutes remaining, Tony Salazar returned a punt to the HSU 25-yard line to give UMHB a chance to take the lead. Instead, the Crusaders managed only 2 yards before missing a field goal, and the Cowboys scored on their ensuing possession. UMHB answered by gaining no yards before punting, and HSU scored again with 1:56 left to win 21-7.
Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg recalled the details of the loss during his weekly news conference Monday.
“Here was an opportunity for us to go out and win the ballgame. Instead, everything changed in their favor,” he said. “We had to learn how to win ballgames like that, and we still talk about it during our offseason. We talk to the guys about the mental aspect and what it takes to push through and execute in games like that.”
While Fredenburg relived the memories from the 2001 matchup, the Cowboys head into this week’s game with last year’s 37-19 first-round playoff loss to UMHB fresh on their minds. It was a postseason clash in which the Crusaders were fueled by their 29-26 regular-season loss to their rivals.
And the cycle goes on and on in a rivalry series in which neither team ever lacks for motivation.
“There’s always a different feeling around here when it’s Hardin-Simmons week,” Fredenburg said. “I don’t think our guys have forgotten last year’s (regular-season) game.”
No. 8 is one of a kind
UMHB will retire a number for the first time in the history of its football program Saturday, when Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman will be on hand at halftime to have his No. 8 jersey framed forever.
Freeman played for the Crusaders from 2004 to ’07 and was the first UMHB and ASC player to earn a national player of the year honor when he was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. He was a two-time AFCA All-American and two-time Associated Press Little All-American who began his professional career in the CFL before playing for the Indianapolis Colts. He is in his first season with the Bears.
“He’s been such a great friend of the university. The thing that makes you so proud of him and his accomplishments is that he’s so humble about it,” Fredenburg said. “He’s very proud of coming from a Division III program. He’s very proud of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He hasn’t forgotten from where he came, and he’s helped the university financially. It’s a very fitting celebration.”
UMHB is coming off a 59-22 victory over then-No. 15 East Texas Baptist in which the Crusaders pulled away in the second half after their offense failed to establish any rhythm through the first two quarters.
Fredenburg believes the wrinkles that caused the first-half problems will be ironed out this week.
“We had opportunities and just didn’t connect. We’ve addressed it,” he said. “I take bad situations like what happened in the first half and say, ‘Let’s find out what happened here, and let’s make something positive out of it.’
“We need to understand the significance of the reasons that we didn’t complete some passes, and then we need to do the things necessary to change it.”
Crusaders senior quarterback Blake Jackson was named ASC Offensive Player of the Week, and junior tackle Haston Adams earned the defensive honor.
Jackson overcame two interceptions to go 23-of-42 for 359 yards — tying the program’s single-game record — and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing TD.
Adams recorded five tackles, had 1½ sacks and returned a fumble 50 yards for a score. It was the 6-foot-5, 295-pound lineman’s second touchdown of the season, prompting a question Monday about whether the Crusaders had any plans for utilizing him on offense.
“Not in our lifetime,” Fredenburg replied. “But he is really emerging as an outstanding player for us.”
UMHB received two first-place votes and held firm at No. 3 in this week’s coaches top-25 poll, while HSU moved up one spot to No. 8 after its 54-25 victory over winless Howard Payne.
Defending national champion Mount Union (Ohio) is No. 1, followed by Wisconsin-Whitewater, UMHB, St. Thomas (Minn.) and North Central (Ill.).
Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Johns Hopkins (Md.), HSU, Linfield (Ore.) and Wisconsin-Platteville round out the top 10.
ETBU dropped seven slots to No. 22.