Four Downs: Did Hardin-Simmons end UMHB’s reign of dominance?

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Week 9 of the Non-FBS season saw Hardin-Simmons dominate the second half to earn its first win over Mary Hardin-Baylor since 2015. Did the Cowboys end the Cru’s dominance as a result? Elsewhere, Tarleton notches signature FCS win, and UIW sets up a showdown for Southland superiority.

First Down: HSU flips the script on UMHB

Entering Saturday, UMHB had won 20 of the last 21 and seven consecutive meetings against HSU. On a couple of occasions, the Cowboys led at the half only to see the Cru find a way to complete the comeback. In 2019, it took a controversial field goal as time expired. In 2021, UMHB scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to win 34-28.

On Saturday, HSU dominated the second half in a 24-14 victory. The Cru led 7-3 at the half, but a muffed punt set the Cowboys up at the UMHB 2-yard line. Colton Marshall scored the touchdown three plays later, and HSU scored 17 consecutive points in the second half. 

With the win, the Cowboys gained control of the American Southwest Conference with two games remaining. HSU can clinch the conference title and automatic bid to the playoffs with one more win and a loss by East Texas Baptist. The Cowboys play at ETBU to close the regular season.

Second Down: Is UMHB’s reign of dominance over?

Mary Hardin-Baylor has made 18 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III playoffs. The last time the DIII playoffs were held that didn’t include the Crusaders was in 2003. The previous time UMHB hasn’t at least shared the ASC title, not counting the vacated seasons of 2016 and 2017, was 2004.

With four losses, the Cru will not make the playoffs this season. They need to win out and have HSU lose one of its final two games to earn at least a share of the ASC title this year. This begs the question, is UMHB’s reign of dominance over?

The fact is this UMHB team entered the season lacking experience, and that was evident during its three-game losing streak against some of the best teams in DIII to open the season. Some of those teams are filled with super seniors. Assuming the starters return, the Cru will be loaded with experience next year.

There is no doubt this season is a blow to a proud football program. The Cru will be favorites to win the ASC title and the automatic bid to the playoffs next year. It’s too early to start writing about the demise of UMHB. History will view this season as a blip instead of the beginning of the end unless the Cru find themselves in this position again next year.

Third Down: Tarleton earns signature FCS victory

I’ve written on multiple occasions that Tarleton is better this year. Much better. But that wasn’t enough to quiet the doubters. The Texans needed a signature win to prove they were ready to compete with the best of the United Athletic Conference and FCS. That win came Saturday in Conway, Ark., against Central Arkansas.

Following heartbreaking conference losses in consecutive weeks to Southern Utah and Eastern Kentucky, the Texans didn’t let a rain-soaked field or the Bears stop them from victory. It wasn’t without drama, with Tarleton’s defense forcing an incomplete pass on a two-point conversion with 14 seconds left following a 72-yard touchdown drive by the Bears. But it’s a signature win, and one Todd Whitten will gladly accept.

Fourth Down: UIW sets up Southland showdown

It wasn’t pretty, but ugly wins count the same. UIW dominated statistically but struggled to convert in the red zone against a stout Lamar defense. But UIW coach Clint Killough will not apologize for a victory that keeps his Cardinals tied atop the Southland Conference standings and set up a showdown in San Antonio against Nicholls next week.

The 17 points by UIW were the fewest scored against an FCS opponent since they totaled 14 against Sam Houston in April 2021. However, the offense produced 459 yards, with Richard Torres receiving his first start at quarterback in place of Zach Calzada, who remained out with a shoulder injury. UIW will need the offense to produce in the red zone next week against a physical Colonels squad that will be the biggest FCS test the Cardinals have faced this season.

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