ABILENE, Texas – One of the most unique rivalries in all of NCAA Division III takes place this weekend in Abilene, as crosstown American Southwest Conference rivals McMurry University and Hardin-Simmons University square off at HSU’s Shelton Stadium this Saturday at 1 p.m.
This preview is presented by First Financial Bank.
McMurry (1-2, 1-2 ASC) enters this week following its first win of the season, defeating Southwestern 41-31 at Wilford Moore Stadium last week. Meanwhile, No. 7/9 HSU enters with a 3-1 record after suffering a close loss at Mary Hardin-Baylor last Saturday in Belton.
Saturday’s showdown will be for the Wilford Moore Trophy, which honors former HSU football standout and legendary McMurry head coach Wilford Moore. Moore is a member of both the McMurry Hall of Honor and the HSU Hall of Fame.
“We are the only two teams in the ASC…that have a crosstown showdown – and that’s a really unique thing,” said McMurry’s third year head coach Jordan Neal, a former standout quarterback at Hardin-Simmons. “I like the convenience that this is a road game and we don’t have to go on a long road trip…it’s almost like a home game 15 minutes away. We’re familiar with the place and they are familiar with us, so it’s a lot of fun. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them and I’m proud of my alma mater, but man I’m even more proud to be a War Hawk and to go to battle with these guys.”
McMurry visits HSU for Wilford Moore Trophy
FOLLOW THE GAME:
All McMurry Football radio broadcasts will air exclusively on Lonestar 1280 AM (KSLI). Fans can listen on the radio, on the web or on the Lonestar 1280 app – available free on your mobile app store and accessible anywhere, anytime with cell phone service.
Broadcasts will begin 20 minutes before each game.
Hardin-Simmons will have a web stream and live stats available for Saturday. Tickets can also be bought online or at the gate.
All streaming, listening, ticketing and live stat pages will be available each week at this link.
Saturday marks the 35th all-time meeting between the crosstown rivals. HSU leads the all-time series 30-4.
The rivalry began in 1946 following a three-year hiatus away from football due to World War II. After just one game, an HSU win, the rivalry was put on hold until 1961. McMurry won three straight games over HSU in 1961-1963, led by College Football Hall of Famer Grant Teaff.
Since 1990, McMurry and HSU have battled 30 times. The Cowboys have owned the rivalry since that time and currently have a six game win streak dating back to 2015.
McMurry looks for its first win over HSU since 2011, where the War Hawks won 24-14. At the time, many thought this game would mark the end of the rivalry with McMurry moving to NCAA Division II. That War Hawks team led the nation in passing behind the arm of former standout Jake Mullin.
This rivalry cannot be mentioned without Wilford Moore, who’s been on both sides and is a member of both Hall of Honors. Moore played three seasons at HSU and earned a physical education degree there, but later came to McMurry as its head football coach from 1947-54. Moore owns the highest winning percentage in school history at .639 with a 46-29 record. In honor of his contributions to both programs, the rivalry is played for the Wilford Moore Trophy.
McMurry head coach Jordan Neal has also been on both sides of the rivalry, leading HSU to great heights as its starting quarterback from 2001-04 and again in 2006. Neal has held 16 records for the Cowboys and was a finalist for the 2006 Gagliardi Trophy, emblematic of the top player – athletically and academically – in NCAA D-III football. Growing up in Abilene and spending much of his childhood on the South side of town, Neal returned home and became head coach of the War Hawks on December 5, 2018.
Saturday’s game is part of the Dyess Trophy competition, which commemorates both school’s relationship with Abilene’s Dyess Air Force Base. The Dyess Trophy is a head-to-head season-long battle between McMurry and HSU in all the sports both schools sponsor. HSU has won the last three years, but McMurry leads 1-0 in 2021-22 thanks to a five-set win in volleyball two weeks ago.
Offensively, McMurry and HSU are separated by less than a point so far. The Cowboys are averaging 31.3 points per game in four contests, while the War Hawks are averaging 30.7 in three games. While McMurry has been in more close games, HSU leads the conference in defense with just 12.5 points allowed per game.
McMurry ranks second in passing offense – behind Howard Payne – with 344.7 yards per game. The War Hawks rank just ahead of HSU in third with 252.8 yards per game. HSU has had the more prominent run game of the two with 170.0 yards per game to McM’s 105.0.
McMurry ranks third in total yards per game – behind HPU and UMHB – with 449.7, while HSU is fourth with 422.8 per game. And although McMurry allows the second most yards on defense, the “land sharks” are in the top half of the conference in sacks (7) and interceptions (4) while leading the lead in interception return yards (84).
Both schools are two of five in the conference to average at least 20 first downs per game, with McMurry ranking second at 24.0 and HSU ranking fourth at 22.8 per game. Both teams are also converting well on third down with McM at a 44.9 percentage and HSU at a 43.8 percentage. HSU leads the league in shutting down opponents on third down at a 28.0 opponent success rate.
With the cancellation of its non-conference season opener at Trinity, McMurry is currently playing a nine game schedule – all against American Southwest Conference opponents.
Below are the five home dates on the schedule:
9/11 at 1 PM vs. Howard Payne – L, 42-36
9/25 at 4 PM vs. Southwestern – W, 41-31
10/16 at 1 PM vs. Austin College – Homecoming Weekend
10/30 at 1 PM vs. Sul Ross State – Battle of I-20 Rivalry
11/13 at 1 PM vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor – Senior Day
SCOUTING THE WAR HAWKS:
Sophomore quarterback Dexter Wyble earned his first collegiate start last weekend against Southwestern and played well, leading McMurry to a 41-31 win over Southwestern. Supporting Wyble on offense was a veteran offensive line of four seniors and a sophomore, a senior and junior running back and a collection of veteran receivers.
McMurry also forced three turnovers on defense while not allowing an offensive turnover.
“It felt really good for us to get over the hump and get a ‘W’ on the board,” said Neal. “At the same time, we didn’t feel like we played our best and we feel we have a lot we can improve on. We’ve had a few curveballs thrown at us this week with the weather, but our guys have been extremely adaptable, even though we’ve spent some time in the gym and adapting schedules, but we’ve been able to get some good work in and we’re a much more confident group, getting healthier and settling into a good rhythm now that we’re at the midpoint of the season.”
Two players in particular were recognized for their efforts in the win, including junior defensive back Brenden Torrence and junior kicker Jared Mendoza landing D3football.com Team of the Week honors. Torrence had six tackles, a sack and an interception, while Mendoza had four field goals and accounted for 15 points in the 10-point win.
Both McMurry and Southwestern finished with 456 total yards, but it was McMurry who dominated possession and made the most of its drives. Senior running back Kameron Session stepped up with 54 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving, including an impressive 52-yard touchdown on a midfield screen pass down the sideline. Had had 15 carries and two receptions.
“Getting more touches throughout the game gives you a good feeling of the tempo and just being able to see how the holes develop,” Session said. “I’m just glad the coaches are trusting me and I’m just going to do everything I can every single play (to help the team). Our offensive line – I love those guys. They practice hard every day and they’re getting better. Coach Johnny Garcia, the offensive line coach, has ran those guys every week and they are doing a great job. I appreciate those guys a lot.
The defensive leader was junior linebacker Xavier Gayle, who had a team-best seven tackles – six solo – and played every defensive snap. He also had two pass break-ups and a 17-yard sack that turned a red zone opportunity into a punting situation for SU. Gayle said the defense as a whole has improved each week.
“I really do feel like our defense has come a long way since 2019,” Gayle said. “We’ve had some bad moments over the last few years, but the more we play and the more we get to build around each other, the more it feels like a family and that we’re playing off each other. Sure, I had a few tackles, but I’m just one of 11. As long as I do my job and the defense is doing theirs, all is happy. Coach John Jennings (defensive coordinator) is a mastermind—he knows what he’s doing. As long as we’re all on the field, just know he has a plan.”
To view a full recap from last week, click here.
SCOUTING THE COWBOYS:
Hardin-Simmons enters ranked No. 7 in the D3football.com Top 25 and No. 9 in the American Football Coaches Association poll. Last week, the Cowboys took part in a highly-anticipated top ten showdown against No. 1 UMHB, falling on the final drive 34-28.
Prior to the loss, HSU opened with three wins over Wayland Baptist (49-0), Sul Ross State (27-0) and Belhaven (21-16). The Cowboys are no stranger to this position, as they are 27-0 in games following a loss to UMHB where they eventually made it to the playoffs. The War Hawks hope to play spoiler to that stat this weekend.
Senior quarterback Kyle Jones leads the charge with 928 total passing yards and 10 touchdowns in four games. Last season, he threw for three touchdowns against McMurry. Colton Marshall leads the run game with 40 carries for 229 yards (5.7 per carry). Gatlin Martin is the leading receiver with 14 catches for 162 yards.
On defense, linebacker Matt Mitchell leads the way with 26 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, while freshman Brock Bujnoch had 18 tackles. Freshman safety Davonte Nephew had two interceptions and a pass breakup to go with 12 tackles so far.
Senior captain Jamie Pogue has been the team’s steady kicker on special teams with 17 extra points and two field goals so far this year.