Small College Spotlight Game: Hardin-Simmons survives scare from Trinity

By Monica Weatherly

ABILENE - - Two powerful offenses met at Shelton Stadium on Saturday night, but the battle between No. 9 Hardin-Simmons and Trinity turned into a defensive brawl. The Cowboys offense scored 16 unanswered points to earn a huge 16-10 non-conference victory over the Tigers.

“We knew all week coming in that it was going to be a tough game. Those guys are good and they’re well-coached so we knew it would take all four quarters and it did,” said Hardin-Simmons head coach Jesse Burleson. “I’m really proud of the way our guys fought back through the adversity. Everything didn’t go exactly like we planned and that’s ok.

“I’d definitely rather learn lessons in a win rather than a loss."

Getting Defensive

Trinity began the game with a 7-play 75-yard drive that ended with Tommy Lavine leaping over a defender to catch a 6-yard pass from quarterback Wyatt Messex.

The HSU defense took control from that point as they held Trinity to only 127 yards for the remainder of the game. The Tigers averaged 2.8 yards per play after the opening drive.

“That first drive I think they were just getting a feel for (the game) and after that, they shut them down,” said Burleson. “Coach (Zach) Wilkerson, coach (Jonathan) Petty and coach (Chris) Jones and those guys do a phenomenal job of getting our guys ready and obviously they played lights out (tonight).”

Going for the Game

Hardin-Simmons was on one of their best drives of the night during the fourth quarter. The Cowboys had driven 77 yards down the field in nine plays and faced a fourth down and one at the Trinity three-yard line leading 16-10 with just over six minutes remaining in the contest.

Burleson initially sent the field goal unit onto the field but decided to send out the offense following a timeout. The Cowboys failed to convert the fourth down, but the defense forced the Tigers into a three and out the next series.

“The coaching tells you to kick the field goal and make it a two-score game and my defensive coordinator (Wilkerson) said, ‘Go for it. We got your back’. I trust those guys and I love those guys and that’s why we went for it,” said Burleson.

Huge Regional Win

Every football game matters at the NCAA Division III level especially when the stakes are so high for each game. A team must either win their conference title or earn one of only five at-large bids to qualify for the playoffs.

“This is a Division III in-region game so it’s a big game and we knew that coming into it and in those battles, you better come out on top to get what you need to get,” said Burleson. “It was a great learning experience for us tonight and I think we’ll be better because of (this game).”

As for what his players can learn from this game, Burleson was very straightforward.

“I think it’s a great wake up call to understand that we need to keep improving and have to know that every week we better bring our dead-level best,” said Burleson.

Battle of Undefeated

Hardin-Simmons remaining games will all be against teams in the American Southwest Conference. The Cowboys hit the road next week as they travel to face Howard Payne at 1 p.m. next Saturday. Both teams enter the contest with a 2-0 record.

“We’ll learn from this one and we’ll enjoy it for 24 hours and then we’ll be on to those guys. We’ll learn from this one and then we’ll be ready for those guys next week,” said Burleson.

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