ABILENE, Texas - It doesn't get much bigger during the regular season than this for Hardin-Simmons football. A top 5 showdown with the defending national champ UMHB, at your house.
“I'm sure there will be a ton of people,” smiled junior Reese Childress before practice on Wednesday. “The couch crew will be going crazy, the Cowboy band will be going insane. Just a playoff-like atmosphere.”
The Cru come in as the No. 1 team in the national polls, while the Cowboys sit ranked 5th and putting up impressive numbers in their rise to the top.
What a game this one is shaping up to be as HSU continues to lead the nation in yards per game with over 680 – while UMHB leads in defense, holding opponents to 186 yards or less a game.
"We know that every time we play them, they are going to get our best and we're going to get their best,” said Childress. “It doesn’t matter if a team is having a bad season or is undefeated, you know that when they play you it’s going to be their best and that's what I think you get in a rivalry."
For the Cowboys, Big Country high school standouts Jaquan Hemphill – who broke or tied 11 records last week – and former Abilene High Eagle Reese Childress, are leading the way offensively. In the win over ETBU last week, it was Childress’ 11th career 100-yard game, moving him to a tie for third with Jessie Ramos in career 100-yard games. Only Kirk Rogers with 20 and Collin McCormick with 12 have more. He also went over the 2,000 career receiving yard mark last week. His 2,052 yards places him 10th on the HSU receiving charts.
But on defense, expect the Cowboys to be even more fired up, after allowing 42 points to ETBU last week. Previously, the HSU defensive squad was ranked 3rd in scoring, allowing fewer than 5 points a game.
HSU and UMHB will meet for the 24th time on Saturday and it will be the second meeting where both teams were ranked in the top five. In the 2004 meeting, UMHB came in No. 3 and HSU No. 4. UMHB has had its run of success winning 13 in a row before HSU won in 2015 in Abilene. The Cru have won 15 of the last 16 meetings.
The winner of this game has won at least a share of every ASC title since 1998. Saturday’s matchup will come down as usual to the kicking game and which time can force the other team into a timely mistake. HSU is averaging 345.2 yards per game rushing and the Cru only allows 51.5 yards per game on the ground. Both teams come into the game having allowed just one rushing touchdown on the year.
“It’s just going to be a team game,” said head coach Jesse Burleson prior to Wednesday’s practice. “You can’t place any more emphasis on one end of the ball. We just need to take the next step in our progression and not take a step backwards. We want to make sure we also use this game to get better.”
But a win Saturday would also be the first for a Cowboys team against a No. 1 ranked opponent. That just increasing the need for no mistakes in this annual rivalry meeting.
“You've got to realize that every play counts and you never know when that play will be the difference,” said Coach Burleson. “And if you don't approach it that way and don't play them that way then it's probably a recipe for disaster, so we're going to do what we can to take it one play at a time."
Kickoff at Shelton Stadium is slated for 1 p.m.
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