ABILENE, Texas – McMurry University Football will take its shortest road trip of the 2019 season this Saturday, as they take on cross-town rival No. 16/17 Hardin-Simmons at 1 p.m. inside Shelton Stadium in North Abilene.
The Wilford Moore Trophy will be on the line in Saturday’s game, as Moore is the first inductee to be in both the McMurry Hall of Honor and the Hardin-Simmons Hall of Fame. Moore played at HSU before becoming McMurry’s winningest football coach in his stint from 1947-1954.
Both teams look to avenge narrow losses from last week, as the War Hawks (0-7, 0-6) fell short on its last possession in a 29-25 loss to Southwestern, while the Cowboys (5-2, 4-2) lost on the road to No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor with a game-ending field goal as time expired, 15-14.
This week, head coach Jordan Neal, junior left tackle Juan Ramirez and freshman safety Westen Halcom answered questions from the media inside the McMurry Athletics Annex.
Coach Neal’s opening statement
It’s an exciting week, as we get to play Hardin-Simmons right across town. We’re excited about the game. The guys have had a really good week of practice this week, and I feel like we’re getting better all the time. I’m really proud of our players and our coaches and the way that they continue to prepare, plan, practice hard and just focus on getting better every day. We’re looking forward to a fun atmosphere at Hardin-Simmons.
Coach Neal on playing his alma mater
I knew that was going to be the first question. It’s cool and it’s a lot of fun. You know, I’m a proud alum, but I’m also proud to be a War Hawk. I’ve said this from day one…it’s really the honor of a lifetime to get to be at McMurry, to get to lead the program here and lead a great group of guys who are eager to go out and compete every day. As much as there is an added element with (HSU) being my old school, we’re not treating it any differently…we are treating it just like every opponent which means that we have to have total focus, total effort in our preparation.
We know we have a tall task. They are a great team that’s really well coached, and we’re going to have to come correct. We feel like we have a good game plan implemented in place and we feel that we’ve executed well in practice all week and brought a lot of energy. It should be fun.
It’ll be neat to be there, but other than that, it’ll be just like any other game.
Coach Neal on last week’s positives
We came with a lot of energy and we played for four quarters. We just didn’t quite make the plays we needed to come out on top. I told the team after the game that as gut-wrenching as that was and a s sick as you feel after losing a game, I just congratulated them on going from a team that was trying to search for an identity and wasn’t very competitive in the early stages to a team that believes what we’re doing…we’re now, in my opinion, a much more competitive football team. That’s been good to see.
Coach Neal on moving Westen Halcom to defense
With Westen, what you see is what you get. He’s tough, he’s hard-nosed, he’s a smart football player. When we were looking for solutions in the secondary, it was really an obvious choice. Of any of the guys on the offensive side of the ball that were candidates to move over (to defense), we knew that he would have the ability to be adaptable, even though it’s something he hasn’t done in a long time and it’s a new system.
He came into the ETBU game as a backup and knew he was likely going to get some opportunities, and he was in the right place at the right time. He took advantage of those opportunities and has earned his opportunities to play even more…the hardest thing to decide with this guy at the end of the season is “Do we keep him on defense or do we move him back to offense?”
Coach Neal on Juan Ramirez returning to the offensive line
It’s been a huge shot in the arm to have Juan back because he’s really our top offensive lineman. He’s extremely physical, he’s down and dirty and plays really, really hard. He’s at that left tackle position, which is crucial for protecting the quarterback, as well. He’s an extremely bright young man and a 4.0 student, so not only does he do it on the field as a team captain and as a leader and player, but he’s a really good citizen and somebody that leads our program. He’s a model of what we want to have. Having him back has been huge.
Juan Ramirez on the team’s mindset this week
Our motivation is that we have the understanding that we are playing for each other, and that we’re not really focusing on such a big rivalry. We don’t want to get caught up in all the distractions out there, but just understand that we’re playing for each other. If anything bad happens, we’re still going to be there for each other no matter what.
Juan Ramirez on coming back from injuries
It’s been tough. I’ve always been stuck on the field and have always been a starter. It’s kind of weird to just step back a bit and not be able to get on the field. I had to change my role and become more of a (vocal) leader and kind of help coach the other guys, motivate them and bring them hope. Now coming back, it’s been really fun.
Juan Ramirez on the offensive line helping produce two 100-yard rushers last week
We always want to open up the holes for them. We got down and helped each other out. We got all of our calls and were always communicating. The biggest thing we have to do is communicate, which helps us identify the defense. That’s what’s really helped us out in giving our backs the best opportunities.
Westen Halcom on the team’s mindset this week
These past two weeks, we’ve really bought in and came together as a team a lot more than we did at the beginning of the season. It’s really shown in the scores against the teams we played against. We’re just working to play a complete ball game and fight until the very end.
Westen Halcom on moving from running back to safety three weeks ago
It’s a little different. I don’t mind it. I haven’t played defense since my freshman year of high school. Thankfully, I got to move over to defense during our bye week, so I got to go over some of the basics before I had to start really scouting an opponent. It’s been a good transition…it’s helping me see more playing time, and I think I can contribute more to the team (on defense).
Westen Halcom on his immediate impact (one interception, team leader in tackles)
I try not to get too caught up in the stats. It’s more of just doing my assignment each and every play and doing everything I can to help the team win.