It doesn’t have the history that the annual Crosstown Showdown between Abilene High and Cooper has – a football series dating back to 1961.
Yet, in the relatively short time Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor have been playing each other in football, especially once the Cowboys joined the Crusaders as a Division III national powerhouse in 2015, the game became a historic rivalry much like the Eagles and Cougars.
“I think it’s one of the best ones in the nation,” HSU coach Jesse Burleson said of the rivalry. “When you have two great programs going against each other year-in and year-out, and some years twice in the season with the regular season and playoffs, it develops into what everybody from the outside loves to call a rivalry.
“It’s great battle between two great programs. These are the fun ones. You have to love them.”
You would think there would be a lot of love lost between the two programs – especially from the HSU Cowboys’ perspective. After all, the Cru have accounted for eight of the Cowboys last 12 losses since 2015 – two coming in the first round of the playoffs.
Since the two shared an American Southwest Conference title with East Texas Baptist in 2015, the last time the Cowboys beat the Cru, UHMB has won every meeting – preventing the Cowboys from winning the league title five of the past six years.
The Cru was the only team to beat HSU last year, winning 34-28 in Belton, and it kept the Cowboys from going to the playoffs. UHMB went on to win the DIII national title with a 15-0 record, its second since 2018.
Yet, Burleson and the Cowboys feel no ill will toward the Cru. Just respect.
“They do a great job with their program,” Burleson said. “They do things one way, and we do things another way. All we’re trying to do each and every day is get better and keep the focus on us.”
Terrell Franklin, a senior linebacker who has never beaten the Cru, said he respects UHMB, too.
“They’re a great team,” said Franklin, an Abilene High grad. “They’re very sound at what they do. They’ve got great players over there and great coaches.”
High stakes for DIII elites
The Cru (2-1 overall, 1-0 ASC) renew their rivalry with HSU (2-0, 0-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Shelton Stadium.
UHMB is ranked No. 5 in D3football.com’s Top 25 national poll, while the Cowboys are No. 6.
The game takes on a bigger meaning after last year’s loss kept the Cowboys from not only winning the ASC but making the playoffs.
Apparently, the Division III playoff committee took exception with HSU playing NAIA Wayland Baptist in the season opener, a game the Cowboys won 49-0.
Burleson even called the NCAA, looking for answers.
“There were no answers,” Burleson said. “It was just what the committee decided was best, and that’s pretty much what it was left at.”
You would think Burleson would be bitter about the situation, but he isn’t.
“It’s not going to do any good to be bitter about it,” Burleson said. “It is what it is. We didn’t take care of business. It’s our fault. It’s nobody else’s fault.
“What we have done is use it as fuel to work a little bit harder, study a little bit more and try to make plays whenever the opportunity presents itself. It could be one or two plays that makes the whole difference in a whole season.”
So, HSU, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since going four consecutive years from 2015-18, losing in the first round each time (twice to UHMB and twice to Linfield), is taking the approach it has to go 10-0 to return to the postseason.
“Realistically in Division III, you have to win every week because there is no margin for error,” Burleson said. “People may say that’s just coachspeak, but that’s really what it is. That’s the reality of it.
“We saw it happen last year, and it’s happened in years before where teams have been left out of the playoffs maybe for a loss where they stubbed their toe against somebody maybe they shouldn’t have or they just lost a good game. So, you better be prepared every week.”
Despite last year’s situation, HSU still played Wayland Baptist against this year – winning 79-14 in Plainview.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Burleson said. “We couldn’t find anyone else to play. It was either that or play nine games, and we’re not going to do that.”
Thus, the Cowboys might just have to run the table this season.
Cru suffer rare loss
The Cowboys find themselves playing a Cru team that might be thinking the same thing.
After beating then-No. 11 Muhlenberg 62-13 in the season opener in Belton, Wisconsin-Whitewater – ranked sixth at the time – beat UHMB 28-24 in Whitewater – snapping the Cru’s 20-game win streak.
Until then, the last team to beat UHMB was Whitewater, 26-7 in the DIII national title game in 2019.
The Cru have lost only five games on the field since 2015 (the 2016-17 seasons, including a national title in 2016, were vacated for using ineligible athletes). One of those losses was a 29-26 decision to HSU in 2015. It’s the last time UHMB has lost an ASC game.
The Cru have a new head coach – Larry Harmon, who was an assistant to Pete Fredenburg for 20 years. Fredenburg, the team’s coach since its first season in 1998, retired after last season.
Despite the loss to Whitewater earlier this season, Burleson said the Cru are every bit as good as recent UHMB teams.
“Great defensively. Very explosive on offense,” Burleson said. “(They) make a lot of plays on special teams. As a coach, you always look for weaknesses that you can exploit, and they’re pretty dang solid, pretty dang sound. That’s what a lot of people would say about us as well.”
Cowboys on a mission
Burleson believes this might be the best HSU team he’s had since taking the head coaching job 12 years ago after four years as an assistant with the team.
And he said this is a team on a mission – not just to beat UHMB but win an ASC title and go far in the playoffs, if not win a national title.
“When you look top to bottom, position by position, this has been a group that’s just been itching to go prove how good they are,” Burleson said. “When they have opportunities, they’ve taken advantage of them, and we expect to do the same thing this week.”
And now HSU gets the chance to prove itself against the national champions.
“We have to win one play at a time,” Burleson said. “It’s not about going and looking at the big picture. A lot of teams will go say, ‘We’ve got to go win this game.’ It’s hard to win a game. It’s a little easier to do it one play at a time. That’s the focus for us.”
Franklin would love to finally beat the Cru in his final season with the Cowboys, too.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Franklin said. “They’re a good team. It’s my last year. I’ve got to go out with a bang. Yeah, we would like to beat those guys over there.”
2021 – UHMB 34, HSU 28
2020/21 (spring season) – UHMB 23, HSU 15 (ASC championship game)
2019 – UHMB 15, HSU 14
2018 – UHMB 26, HSU 0; UHMB 27, HSU 6 (1st round playoffs)
2017 – UHMB 17, HSU 7 (later vacated)
2016 – UHMB 20, HSU 15 (later vacated)
2015 – HSU 28, UMHB 26; UHMB 37-19 (1st round of playoffs)
2014 – UMHB 41, HSU 28
2013 – UMHB 63, HSU 7
2012 – UMHB 45, HSU 32
2011 – UMHB 35, HSU 17
2010 – UMHB 42, HSU 28
2009 – UMHB 23, HSU 7
2008 – UMHB 20, HSU 18; UMHB 38, HSU 35 (1st round playoffs)
2007 – UMHB 47, HSU 14
2006 – UMHB 28, HSU 16; UMHB 33, HSU 21 (1st round playoffs)
2005 – UMHB 38, HSU 7
2004 – HSU 49, UHMB 22; UHMB 42, HSU 28 (2nd round playoffs)
2003 – UHMB 43, HSU 36
2002 – UMHB 35, HSU 16
2001 – HSU 30, UHMB 27
2000 – HSU 21, UHMB 7
1999 – HSU 28, UHMB 21
1998 – HSU 56, HSU 9 (UHMB’s first season)
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor meet in lively ASC football rivalry