Texas Lutheran head coach Carl Gustafson knew what his team needed to do to pull off an upset of No. 6 Hardin-Simmons on the road last Saturday.
“We were going to have to play really well and we were going to have to play really hard and we were going to have to have some good things happen,” Gustafson said.
TLU achieved all three of those goals while shocking the nation in a 38-27 win over the Cowboys. The victory earned the Bulldogs the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Small College Team of the Week.
While TLU was impressive in the previous two weeks defeating quality East Texas Baptist and Southwestern teams, this win is even bigger for a Bulldogs team that is seeking to earn the American Southwest Conference title.
“Every conference game is big, but we’d be fibbing if we didn’t look at certain teams and tell ourselves that we have to beat that team if we want to achieve our goals and Hardin-Simmons was one of those teams,” Gustafson said.
One major key to the Bulldogs' win was their opportunistic defense as they forced five turnovers, which led to four touchdowns in the game. TLU returned three of the HSU turnovers for touchdowns.
Freshman Daniel Enriquez returned an interception 58 yards with 12 seconds remaining in the first half to give TLU a 17-10 lead.
“What I thought was critical was the interception that Daniel Enriquez had right before half,” Gustafson said. “They were moving the ball and then we get a pick-six and it almost cemented the idea in our players going into the locker room that this can be done.”
TLU knew at halftime that HSU would not go quietly, and the Bulldogs needed to remain focused in the second half.
“We weren’t complacent when we came back out and we didn’t think about all the bad things that could happen in the second half,” Gustafson said. “That was critical because they kept coming back. We would do something good and they would just come back.”
Another big play for TLU was a 30-yard touchdown run by Austin Mathews, which occurred on a fourth-and-two with the Bulldogs leading 24-20.
“Not only does he make the first down, but he runs around and then through some guys and ends up scoring,” Gustafson said. “It was one of those scores where he just crossed the goal line as he was being tackled.”
Hardin-Simmons continued to fight with All-American running back Jaquan Hemphill, who gained 304 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 32 carries.
“He was in a whole other universe,” Gustafson said. “He didn’t show any signs of fatigue in the fourth quarter and he just kept on pounding. He is a talented young man and somebody that we have a great deal of respect for.”
With the entire game being a back and forth affair, Gustafson was sure the game was worth the price of admission for fans on both sides.
“There were just some unbelievable performances from multiple players on both sides,” he said. “From a spectator’s point of view, it had to be just a joy to watch a good small college football game being played so well.
“From a coaches’ point of view, I might have aged about 10 years last Saturday.
“After the game, everybody is joyous and celebrating and it was kind of surreal because we just have an immense amount of pride in how hard the game was played and played the right way by both teams."
Gustafson understands that his team must remain focused on each game this season if they are to achieve their goals.
“This team hasn’t achieved anything yet,” he said. “We’re on the right track to achieving a goal but that’s just a trajectory. We feel good after three weeks of conference play, but I don’t think our players feel like the work is done.”
The TLU coaching staff will rely on the leadership of their team to help keep their players focused.
“We have a really mature football team and ultimately leadership is best when it comes from within the team and we have great leadership on this team,” Gustafson said.