A look back on the UMHB vs. Hardin-Simmons rivalry through the eyes of former Cru football players

Photo provided by the UMHB Athletics Department

BELTON, Texas- The rivalry between UMHB and Hardin-Simmons on the gridiron runs deep. It is something that perspective recruits hear about upon arrival to campus, and something they remember long after their careers are over. Over 28 previous meetings, numerous memorable moments have unfolded, the result of increased focus and dedication in the days leading up to the contest.

Over the past week, True To The Cru spoke with nine former UMHB football players, learning about their memorable experiences from this well-known rivalry.

Baylor Mullins: Defensive Back, 2013-2016

“Growing up and going to high school 10 miles from Hardin Simmons obviously always made this game mean a little more to me. I can remember each game just like it was yesterday over the four years of playing HSU. But in 2013 my freshman year we had to travel to Abilene to play in what was supposed to be a good game, we ended up beating them 63-7 and never looked back. From that game I will never forget the first time playing in what I considered to be back home, by starting off my career against those guys with an interception returned for a touchdown and maybe the best memory of all was the pool party after the game with my teammates. We celebrated the win by jumping into the swimming pool at Hardin Simmons by our locker room. Overall from playing to now watching this game, it doesn’t get any better than watching the CRU come out on top year after year!”

Roderick Thompson: Tight End, 2004-2007

“The memory that stands out to me about the UMHB/HSU rivalry is from 2004, my freshman year. We hosted HSU at home during the regular season. Things didn’t go as we had planned and they beat us 49-22. We knew we had to win out to make the playoffs and we did. We received an at-large bid and made the playoffs. We beat Trinity in the first round to set up a rematch in the second with HSU, this time we had to go play in Abilene. This game was about revenge and avenging the loss we had to them prior in the season. We also knew if we wanted our season to continue, we had to win. HSU jumped out to an early 7-0 lead but we responded with 28 unanswered points. We traded scores in the 2nd half and won 42-28. As a freshman to be a part of that and to understand the rivalry between us is special. The week of practice leading up to the game is intense, no one wants to be the reason we don’t win that game. Even though my playing days are done, the rivalry still lives on as I’ve worked with coaches who played for HSU and we still give each other a hard time but it’s all in good fun. I hope the current players take it all in and enjoy the week of preparation leading up to the game. The memories of this rivalry will last forever.”

Jordan Mullinnix: Defensive Back, 2010-2013

“When I first got to UMHB in 2009, and we got to Hardin-Simmons week, that’s all anybody talked about. That week of practice was always super intense. We picked it up a notch. We had some rivalries in high school but nothing like this. I didn’t really get it until I got to play in those games. My senior year, 2013, we went to Hardin-Simmons. They had a really good team, but we went over there and absolutely put it on them, winning 63-7. I don’t know if it’s still set up this way now, but there was a swimming pool right next to the field [at HSU]. Every time we beat them there, at least a few guys from the football team would go dive into the pool. They ended up putting a fence around it or a security guard because they knew if we won, we were going to cannonball into that pool.”

Brian Sides: Defensive Back, 2012-2015

“The sense of urgency was always elevated. When I was playing, that was essentially for the conference championship. We always prepared like every game was a big game, but for some reason, Hardin-Simmons was a little bit more, just because of what was at stake. Personally, growing up in a small West Texas town, I had a lot of buddies who played for Hardin-Simmons, so it was a chance for me to play against guys I had played with in high school, guys I had played against. So to me, that made it a little extra special. Being able to go there to Abilene and win at their home stadium, you just kind of feel the wind out of the sails when the final buzzer goes off. That was always such a cool feeling.”

David Branscom: Tight End, 1998-2000, Assistant Coach 2001-2014

“What comes to mind is that it’s so hard to beat a good football team, and if you want to take a rivalry to its ultimate test, look at ’06 and ’08. We played them twice in those seasons, and never really lost to them again. It has gotten to the point where obviously it has been lopsided but there’s so much involved in this rivalry game. No matter the amount of wins, both sides’ mouths are still puckered when the ball is kicked off. That is the great thing about it. It’s sad as a player to never beat them (Branscom played at UMHB from 1998-2000), to come close in ’99 and 2000 but not have enough in the program to overcome the stakes. But then we went on a roll, because in ’05, ’06,’07, ’08, it was fun beating the Cowboys. It’s a huge honor for those guys to go play in that game. They represent a lot of years, a lot of Crusaders.”

Bryan Jones: Offensive Line, 2009-2012

“I was a college coach for six years, and now I’m at the high school level, and obviously everywhere I’ve been, there’s been a rivalry. And it is weird because it seems like everywhere I’ve been, the rivalry doesn’t seem to mean as much as Hardin-Simmons does for us. This is nothing that I did, but my sophomore year, we went to play them in Abilene. I’ll never forget it, our first drive, we’re driving down the field, and we had a quarterback named Kyle Noack, who was splitting the reps with a guy in my class, LiDarral Bailey. Kyle was a fighter, and he was leading us down the field. We get into the goal line, and Kyle pulls the ball. Most kids would’ve dove or tried to protect themselves, but Kyle lowered his shoulder and lit this dude from Hardin-Simmons up. I was like, ‘One, we’re going to win this game, and two, there’s no stopping us.’ Whenever I think of this rivalry that’s where my mind goes.”

Bryson Tucker: Running Back/Defensive Back, 2009-2012

“One of my personal favorite memories is after we beat HSU at their place we basically had a pool party at their facility. Darius Wilson ran and jumped in the pool in full pads. I can’t swim, so no way I was jumping in. But every year brings something different and unique. We always look forward to this game no matter who won last, because only this game matters. GO CRU!”

Steve Sellers: Center, 2017-2020

“It’s a pulse check throughout the season because Hardin-Simmons is kind of that first team that we see that is a lot like us, talent-wise. It’s a good check to see how good we are at this stage, what can we accomplish? And also just seeing the fans and the alumni, it’s really cool to see everyone come together for a game. It was always in the back of our heads, that this game [with HSU] is going to determine the conference title, this is going to determine playoff bids. There’s a lot riding on the Hardin-Simmons game, more than just a rivalry. At the end of the day, we play for rings,we expect to be champions, we expect to be No. 1. Through this game, that’s what we’re fighting for. That’s the biggest part to me about Hardin-Simmons, is just being able to solidify our rank in the ASC.”

David Castles: Offensive Line, 2018-2019, Student Assistant, 2020

“My most memorable moment of beating up on UMHB’s little brother was sweeping HSU in ’18. It’s extremely hard to play a conference rival twice in one season but getting to blow HSU out, not once, but twice in 4 months is the best feeling!”

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