BELTON — There will be some added energy and excitement around the Mary Hardin-Baylor field houses this week. There’s nothing like a showdown between top-10 teams to get the engines revved.
Then again, the rankings could be thrown out, and the intensity level would still be raised when UMHB prepares to face Hardin-Simmons. Some rivalries never die, no matter how lopsided they become.
“There’s always more energy when you’re getting ready to play Hardin-Simmons. It’s because of the rivalry and the quality of games we’ve had with them,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday. “I would expect the energy level this week to be enormously high. That’s just the way that it is with Hardin-Simmons week.”
According to Fredenburg, though, it isn’t recent history that turned this series into a rivalry.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other,” he said. “When I got this job, I went and met with Jimmie Keeling, who was the head coach at Hardin-Simmons at the time. He introduced me to Division III and helped me with getting our program kicked off.
“We had a real difficult time through those years beating them. We got to a point where we were winning most of our conference games but couldn’t beat Hardin-Simmons, so it just developed into an intense rivalry. It’s not one that’s built up by hatred or animosity. It’s a lot of respect for each other.”
The last time these teams met was in the ASC championship game last spring, when the Crusaders built a 13-0 halftime lead then gave up two second-half touchdowns in a 23-15 victory.
That type of up-and-down performance is what Fredenburg wants his team to avoid this week.
“What we took away from last year’s game was that we played really well in the first half. The second half, we didn’t,” he said. “We have to make sure we put together two halves against them this week.
“There’s a lot of intensity to this rivalry. The ebb and flow of the game is always back-and-forth, and we look forward to a game that will be highly contested.”
After a 49-0 romp of Wayland Baptist in the season opener, Hardin-Simmons went on the road to beat Sul Ross State 27-0 before holding off Belhaven for a 21-16 win last week in Abilene.
“Kyle Jones is a quality quarterback. He was here for a while and we have tremendous respect for him. He has good receivers and good running backs, and they do a great job, offensively,” Fredenburg said. “Defensively, they caused some problems for us the last few years.”
The Crusaders kept their unbeaten record intact with a 54-3 rout of Southwestern last week that included Kyle King touchdown passes of 71 yards to KJ Miller and 37 yards to Brenton Martin along with an 84-yard TD run by backup quarterback Tommy Bowden.
“Our quarterback was getting time, and we feel like we’re very capable of making big plays with this core group of receivers that we have,” said Fredenburg, who added that receiver Brandon Jordan should be back this week after sitting out the Southwestern game with an upper-body injury. “Kyle is throwing it well, so it was nice to have explosive plays like that.
“If we give our (running backs) — Aphonso Thomas and Kenneth Cormier and Montana Miller are very capable — a chance to make some runs, it opens up some throwing lanes and creates an opportunity for big plays. I think the offense did a nice job of taking advantage of that.”
UMHB enters this week averaging 508 yards and 57 points per game while limiting opponents to 166 yards and seven points.
The most glaring deficiency last week was in the kicking game. Starting kicker Anthony Avila missed consecutive extra-point attempts before being replaced by Brandon Cunningham, who was true on extra points but missed a 41-yard field goal try.
“I was a little disappointed in our performance on special teams, so there’s always something,” Fredenburg said. “I really have a lot of confidence in Anthony. When he misses one, though, he kind of goes into a spell. Hopefully, we’ll get him back to himself.”
In the poll
The first coaches poll of the Division III season was released Monday.
UMHB holds the top spot, followed by 2019 national runner-up Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mount Union, 2019 national champion North Central and St. John’s to round out the top five.
The next five are Hardin-Simmons, Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Delaware Valley, Linfield and Wheaton.