McMurry shatters 854-day losing streak with emotional victory

Brandon McAuliffe

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Down five points with two minutes left in the third quarter against Sul Ross State, historic McMurry decided that enough was enough. 

Head coach Jordan Neal knew that bringing the program back to ASC competitiveness would not be easy. The War Hawks were fresh off a 2-8 season when he took over, and went 0-10 in his first season.The COVID-19 pandemic meant attrition across a roster that was already low on numbers. 

By the time McMurry took the field on Saturday, it had been 854 days since the War Hawks won a football game, the longest losing streak in Texas. The last season-opening win was back in 2015, nearly six years ago.

“I believed that the day would happen,” Neal said with a chuckle. “But it felt like it would never come.” 

Neal made his name as a highly successful offensive coordinator at Hendrix College, but McMurry called his name. He was an all-state high school player at Abilene Cooper, just minutes down the road. He played basketball in the gymnasium and worked out on McMurry’s campus all the time in high school. It was home. 

When the job came open, he knew the challenges facing McMurry, especially as city rivals Hardin-Simmons and Abilene Christian kept growing. He also knew the potential. 

“I’m from Abilene,” Neal said. “I grew up here. The house I grew up in is a couple miles down the street. I went to Abilene Cooper. There’s a lot of responsibility and expectation from people who know me and love McMurry. I’ve enjoyed it and embraced it.” 

Because of that, cutting corners was never an option. Seventy-one of the 90 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores brought to town by this coaching staff. Only two seniors recorded stats against Sul Ross. It makes for a long process, but the staff believes it’s the right way. 

And finally after 14 months of work, McMurry had a chance to see the groundwork pay off. On a brisk February day, it came down to that critical drive. 

Quarterback Carlos Garibay started the drive by completing a 4-yard pass. Then it was back-to-back completions to Kristopher Martin for 22 and 7 yards. Then passes to Jermond Lovely and Zachary Wood to get into the red zone. Running back Dee Robinson punched the ball in at the goal line and the War Hawks finished off a two-point conversion to take a 17-14 lead following the six-minute drive. 

Next was the defense’s turn to step up. Last season, this was the worst unit in the conference, but they were ready for the challenge. After consecutive fumbles by McMurry’s offense, Perry Wells broke up a Sul Ross pass to force a turnover on downs. With no time remaining, Colton Strickland hurried Sul Ross QB Clayton Maxwell and the Lobos’ heave to the end zone fell short. 

Finally, at long last, McMurry left the football stadium as victors. Despite the chilly weather, players poured Gatorade on Neal. It was worth the wait. 

“The pure joy you felt when they threw a Hail Mary and the ball hit the ground lifelessly, it was exciting,” Neal said. “I couldn’t have enjoyed any more seeing the smiles on our kids’ faces. It’s a day I’ll never forget.” 

The American Southwest Conference is playing a limited schedule this spring with each team only guaranteed four games. Two of McMurry’s games are against Texas Lutheran and Hardin-Simmons, the teams that finished No. 2 and No. 3 in the ASC in 2019. Things are only going to get harder. But after finally getting the taste of victory, the program is ready to take a deep breath and move forward. 

“We can breathe a sigh of relief because we finally got that win on the board,” Neal said. “The challenge now is to not be complacent, make winning choices and make winning a habit and not something we do once in a blue moon. 

“We’ve torn the rearview mirror off. That’s in the past, it’s ancient history. You can do nothing else but move forward.”

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