Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON- There are now two days until the Top 10 matchup between No. 5 UMHB and No. 6 Hardin-Simmons in Abilene, but before looking ahead in our preview of the contest later this afternoon, I’m looking back on my top five games (in no particular order) in the history of this storied rivalry.
2019: “Mary Hardin-Baylor…wins it at the buzzer!”
Say what you want about the first 59 minutes of the 2019 matchup. It was far from the kind of offensive performance typical of UMHB, but in this Top 15 battle, it came down to the final drive. The Crusaders entered the fourth quarter with just six points to their credit, the product of a defense-dominated contest. Trailing 14-6, UMHB put a touchdown on the board with 11:26 in the fourth, but the potential game-tying two-point conversion failed, and HSU still led 14-12, when the ball was punted back to the Cru with 1:17 left.
Facing 3rd and 13 from the HSU 34-yard line, Jase Hammack’s 11-yard pass came up short of the first down; the point at which Crusader Stadium erupted in chaos.
With the crowd roaring, and the large clock on the scoreboard overlooking the field ticking down, UMHB had no way to stop the clock, with zero timeouts. Just 11 seconds remained when the field goal unit sprinted onto the field, assembling like a well-oiled machine, set for the 43-yard attempt within seconds from leaving the sideline.
On the other sideline, HSU frantically subbed in additional special teamers in place of the defensive players, all while the clock ticked under five…then four…then three…
With his pre-kick routine hurried, kicker Anthony Avila took his final step to the left as the ball was snapped. And then the miraculous finish unfolded from there, with the field goal sailing through the uprights as bedlam erupted and the Crusaders sprinted towards Avila near the 50-yard line in celebration. The 15-14 victory is undoubtedly one of the best finishes to any game in this rivalry, and possibly, in the history of D-III football.
But don’t just read about it. Listen to Jon Wallin’s call on the broadcast, and get the full effect of just how this clutch final play unfolded.
2021: 27 points unanswered…in the second half
When UMHB headed to the locker room at halftime of last year’s battle, the Cru trailed by a significant 28-7 margin. The honest truth is that few watching from across the country expected the nation’s No. 2 team to come away with a win after a challenging first half on both sides of the ball.
But the Crusaders had other plans, and put on a show in the process. After punting on all three of its second-quarter possessions, UMHB scored touchdowns on all three of its third-quarter drives, incredibly tying the score as the fourth began. With all the momentum in their favor, the Cru took control, with Kyle King completing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jordan that proved to be the game-winner.
That score at the 6:06 mark was not the end of the drama, however, as HSU marched right back down the field, reaching the UMHB 22-yard line with under a minute left. But the upset bid fell short, as Jayden Smith intercepted a pass on the two-yard line, followed by a thundering roar from the UMHB faithful, many of whom were in attendance as it was UMHB’s homecoming game. And what a homecoming game it was. 27 points unanswered. All in the second half.
Watching that game-winning interception play out from field level, eagerly awaiting the potential result, it seemed that there was no way HSU would get into the end zone. I don’t how, but the forces of Crusader Stadium, after a comeback of that caliber, would not let that happen. Just as the field goal unit somehow got that game-winning kick away on time in 2019, the magic of Crusader Stadium seemed present once again.
2003: Finally…a win in Abilene
It was a big deal when UMHB claimed its first win over the Cowboys in the early years of the rivalry, but it was an even bigger deal when the Crusaders went to Abilene and beat HSU in 2003.
In another classic from this rivalry, played late in the season on Nov. 1, UMHB fired first, scoring a touchdown on its first possession of the game. They went on to take a 28-15 halftime lead, before being shutout in the third quarter, to which they entered the last 15 minutes trailing, 29-28.
But the rushing of Justin Bryson led to UMHB’s first score of the second half, and a brief 36-29 lead that was soon matched by HSU. In the contest’s most decisive drive, it took the Cru just four plays to march 68 yards, with quarterback Cody Fredenburg completing a 47-yard touchdown pass to standout receiver PJ Williams in one of the rivalry’s most memorable plays.
Williams had 157 receiving yards in the victory, but none were as crucial as the 47 yards he covered en route to the end zone at Shelton Stadium.
To compound the lasting memory of the 2003 win, HSU nearly matched that touchdown with one of their own on the next possession. But the UMHB defense stood tall. The Cowboys got as far as the UMHB 40-yard line, before Keith Zunker forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Cru’s Elex Reed.
Before that contest, UMHB had lost the previous two contests played in Abilene. Since that win, the Crusaders have lost just once at Shelton Stadium, in 2015. Also, a look at the box score reveals a different offensive strategy to what has been seen from UMHB in recent seasons. Fredeburg threw just 14 passes, completing nine of them, but ran the ball 17 times, as many as Bryson, and picked up 58 yards on the ground. The Cowboys could not match the combined passing and rushing attack of the Cru, who were in their fifth season as a program.
2002: UMHB’s first win
Is it a coincidence that the first year UMHB beat HSU the Cru claimed its first ASC championship? Not at all. And it demonstrates for just how long this annual meeting has decided (typically) who takes home the conference title by the season’s end.
20 years ago, in a November Saturday afternoon showdown at Tiger Field in Belton, history was made in the span of three hours, and two minutes. By 5:02 p.m., UMHB had finally claimed that long-awaited victory over the Cowboys, the start of what has been two decades of exceptional success in this annual duel.
Though both teams had the same number of first downs (19), and HSU nearly posted double the amount of passing yards of UMHB, the Crusaders won by a notable 19-point margin, 35-16. After a 30-27 loss the year prior, UMHB made sure the 2002 matchup did not come down to the wire in the same way.
Trina Lusk led the Cru defense with eight solo tackles, and stonewalled the HSU rushing attack, allowing just 32 yards on the ground. The magnitude of the win cannot be overstated, nor can the margin by which UMHB won by. It showed, if nothing else, that the upstart program in Belton that had reached the NCAA playoffs the year prior was not a fluke, but the beginning of a national power.
Two years later, the Crusaders were playing for a national championship.
2004: Revenge in the playoffs
During that national title run in 2004, the road to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA playoffs went straight through HSU. After UMHB fell 49-22 to the Cowboys in Belton during the regular season, HSU was the obvious favorite entering the second-round matchup that came on the heels of a dramatic 32-13 win at Trinity. Adding to the advantages was the fact that the Cowboys were also playing at home. And in less than ideal circumstances, the cooks at the hotel where UMHB was staying quit, and did not show up on Saturday morning, forcing head coach Pete Fredenburg and the rest of the coaching staff to step in, cooking and serving the team hours before kickoff.
The adversity seemed to only benefit the Cru, who took a road warrior mentality into Abilene and rolled to a 42-28 win, highlighted by a 28-point second quarter. Chad Starnes and Justin Bryson each ran for over 100 yards as UMHB’s rushing attack overpowered the HSU defense that had appeared superior in the meeting during the regular season.
Following that win, UMHB added two more, making its first Stagg Bowl appearance after upsetting powerhouse Mount Union. Though Linfield won the national title by a seven-point margin, even reaching the championship game proved just how far the program had come in a short number of years. And speaking with many football alums, the wins over Trinity and HSU, and more specifically, HSU, gave the team a newfound level of confidence and tenacity that served them well weeks down the road.
What are your top five? Let us know in the comments below!
Also, if you are a Cru football alum, be sure to contribute your memories from the rivalry as we are putting together an article, set to be released tomorrow. Fill out the google form here.
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru, as well as a weekly panelist for D3football.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ZayasRiley, or email Riley at firstname.lastname@example.org.