Above photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- It is a regular season game unlike any other for the UMHB football team. Every year, it is a contest circled on the schedule. One that is a source of pride for the fan base that wins, and draws out supporters in the thousands. After all, it is hard to find another rivalry game where the winner has gone on to win at least a share of the conference title every year since 1998.
UMHB is set to host Hardin-Simmons in this storied Div. III rivalry on Saturday evening in Belton. The last time the two met at Crusader Stadium, it took an Anthony Avila field goal as time expired to decide the result, a 15-14 UMHB win. During the spring season, the two opponents met in the first true ASC Championship game, the Cru winning 23-15 in Abilene.
Crusaders head coach Pete Fredenburg had plenty to say about the rivalry during Monday’s press conference, noting that it was former HSU head coach Jimmie Keeling who helped him get UMHB’s program off the ground.
“I think it’s a tremendous amount of respect for each other,” Fredenburg said when asked what makes this annual meeting so special. “When I got this job years ago, 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 get kicked off.”
The Cru has won the last five meetings, and posted a 22-6 record against the Cowboys overall. But the series actually began with four straight wins for HSU, until UMHB’s first victory in 2002.
“We had a real difficult time through the years of beating them,” Fredenburg recalled. “We got to a point where we were winning most of our conference games but we couldn’t beat Hardin-Simmons. So it just developed into a pretty intense rivalry.”
While there is a huge amount of passion from both sides when it comes to the contest, Fredenburg told reporters that it is built from respect, not hatred.
“It’s not one that is built on hatred or animosity, it’s just a lot of respect for each other.”
And this year, it will be a top 10 matchup, as UMHB is ranked No. 2 by D3football.com, and HSU is sitting at No. 7. The Cru, the preseason No. 1, dropped to No. 2 in Sunday’s Top 25 poll, leapfrogged by North Central by one point. Fredenburg did not see the ranking until it was mentioned on Monday, but noted that “it doesn’t make much difference” for his team.
“Well…that really doesn’t make much difference,” Fredenburg said. “We have to take care of business with Hardin-Simmons and just see where the chips fall.”
Back in action for UMHB this week is wide receiver Brandon Jordan, who Fredenburg said “will be fine” after suffering a sprained AC joint. He currently leads the team in receiving yards (171) with seven catches and two touchdowns.
“Brandon Jordan was held out and he’s going to be fine,” Fredenburg said. “He had a sprained AC Joint but he ran yesterday and lifted weights so he’s doing fine.”
Jordan is part of an offense that has tallied 57.3 points per game this season, including a 54-3 win at Southwestern last Saturday. Everything appeared in sync on that side of the ball against the Pirates, as the Cru scored 40 points in the opening half.
“Well, I think we are very talented and one of the great things is we’ve got KJ Miller back,” Fredenburg said. “He had seven catches and an outstanding performance, but we expect that from him. He’s that kind of player.
“If we give a chance for some guys to make runs, like Aphonso [Thomas], Kenneth [Cormier], and Montana [Miller], those three are very capable running backs. So it opens up some throwing lanes and creates opportunities for big plays.”
UMHB was near-perfect against Southwestern, though Fredenburg noted improvement on special teams as an area that needs to be addressed. Anthony Avila missed two PAT attempts, Brandon Cunningham missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, and the Cru tallied just 60 punt return yards on five punts as Aaron Sims struggled to find blockers as he moved upfield.
“I thought we executed some things really well, some things we needed to improve on,” Fredenburg said. “I was a little disappointed in our performance on special teams this week, but there’s always something. We continue to strive to be better every week.”