September 22, 2011

Wild year for the ASC

Well, if we learned one thing last Saturday night it is probably that it could be a wild year in the American Southwest Conference. The evening started with two conference teams in the D3football.com top ten and ended with one going down in flames and another hanging on for dear life.

The team hanging on was fourth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The Crusaders had built a 28-6 lead over McMurry until lightning literally struck, delaying the game for nearly an hour during the second quarter. After that the War Hawks, fresh off a win over first-year Division-I FCS program UT-San Antonio, rallied to pull within 28-27 with 1:47 left in the game.

McMurry coach Hal Mumme decided to go for two and the lead following a Jake Mullin to R.J. Long 15-yard touchdown pass. Mullin’s two-point try was intercepted by linebacker Javicz Jones.

Like the call or not, as some would prefer to kick the tying extra point to send the game into overtime, Mumme’s call took guts. On the road, and with momentum though,  it’s tough to argue that it was the wrong one. It also shows the coach’s confidence in his team.

The War Hawks recovered the following onside kick, but were penalized for blocking before the kick had traveled 10 yards. UMHB recovered the second try and was able to run down most of the clock though Mullin had one more desperation heave that was intercepted.

McMurry certainly gained confidence despite the loss and showed they’ll be a tough out for anyone the play the rest of the season. Any playoff hopes however will require them to run the table.

For Mary Hardin-Baylor it was another narrow escape, but this program always seems to find a way to get it done a crunch time. However, they are certainly are going to need to turn the ball over less if they want to continue their ASC dominance. They’ve given it up seven times already in two games, including six interceptions. Reducing penalties would help too, UMHB is giving away almost 120 yards a game in yellow hankies.

The team going down in flames was Hardin-Simmons.

The Cowboys, ranked No. 8, turned the ball over five times in a 45-28 loss to Mississippi College. The loss was especially frustrating and somewhat unexpected after they had registered an impressive pair of nonconference victories over Coe and Willamette during the season's first two weeks. Hardin-Simmons is just one of those teams that is hard to figure. Injuries spoiled a promising season back in 2009 during which had risen to No. 5 in that nation and last year’s season-ending loss to Louisiana College probably cost them an at large bid to the NCAA playoffs. I sure their fans are wondering when they will get over the hump.

Meanwhile, the Choctaws, who have welcomed the return of running back Steven Knight this season after he missed most of 2010 with injury, announced that they will be a player in the ASC race after suffering a 4-6 season a year ago. Though many have come close over the past couple of years, this is the only program to have beaten Mary Hardin-Baylor in a conference game of late. They were able to do that 2009 when they shared they ASC title with the Crusaders.  Knight has 477 all-purpose yards and a 6.7 yards per rush, combined with the efficient play quarterback Tommy Reyer. The senior has passed for eight touchdowns with just two interceptions.

Another team shooting itself in the football was East Texas Baptist. The Tigers, who played nationally-ranked Wesley tough in their opener and crushed Austin 54-17 in Week 2, blew a 14-0 lead to lose to a Texas Lutheran squad that bounced back impressively from a 43-14 loss to Trinity the previous week. ETBU turned the ball over three times. I am sure that coach Mark Sartain is racking his brain for an answer to the Tigers' inconsistency.

Meanwhile, crouching in the weeds are the Wildcats from Louisiana College. A team that was three possessions away from an undefeated season last year has started the season 2-0 and crushed a respectable Millsaps program 56-0 on Saturday night.

But perhaps it is just a sign of the balance of the conference. For years, the ASC has been consistently a Mary Hardin-Baylor/Hardin-Simmons dominated conference. But in appears, there might be six and maybe even seven teams now that can beat a conference top dog on any given Saturday.

And that Saturday could be this one. There are a lot of great matchups this weekend in the ASC that will have great bearing on the conference race.

ASC Games this Week

Mary Hardin-Baylor (2-0, 1-0 ASC) at Hardin Simmons (2-1, 0-1 ASC). Both teams are turning the ball over like crazy of late. Meanwhile, the Cowboys haven’t beaten UMHB since 2004 and are coming off a disappointing loss.

Howard Payne (1-2, 1-0 ASC) at Texas Lutheran (2-1, 1-0 ASC). Believe it or not, the winner of this game is guaranteed to be tied for first place in the ASC. TLU quarterback Mitchell Bunger has passed for six touchdowns with just one interception, while rushing for over 50 yards a game.  HPU is last in the ASC in total offense with just 233 a game.

East Texas Baptist (1-2, 0-1 ASC) at McMurry (1-2, 0-1 ASC). Both these teams with high expectations, have used up all their Mulligan’s. The winner here still has hope, while the loser probably finishes in the middle of the ASC pack again.

Mississippi College (2-1, 1-0 ASC) at Louisiana College (2-0, 0-0 ASC). The Choctaws have to go on the road after an emotional home victory over Hardin-Simmons. Are they back to their 2009 championship form? We could find out in the “Non-Texas Bowl.” The Wildcats have always be able to score recently, but look out the defense is allowing less than 200 yards and 12 points a game so far through two games.

SCAC Games this Week

Birmingham Southern (3-0, 0-0 SCAC) at Sewanee (2-1, 0-0 SCAC). The Tigers have started 2-1 for the first time since 2008 under first-year coach Tommy Laurendine and the tough to defend flex-bone. Meanwhile they’ll have to find a way to contain Panther tailback Shawn Morris who is averaging 150 yards a game and nearly eight yards per carry. BSC is leading the SCAC in offense with 473 yards a contest.

DePauw (1-1, IND) at Rhodes (0-2, 0-1 SCAC). The Lynx were embarrassed last week against Trinity losing 62-7, taking on defending SCAC champ (but now independent) DePauw, could be another long day.

Trinity (3-0, 1-0 SCAC) at Millsaps (2-1, 0-0 SCAC). Trinity has looked a lot like the Tigers of old so far this season. A win here against a Majors squad still smarting from last week’s debacle against Louisiana College could make them the SCAC front runner once again.

Centre (2-0, 0-0 SCAC) at Austin (0-3, 0-0 SCAC). The Colonels impressed last week by coming from behind to take down defending ODAC champion Washington and Lee. Monte Scotton and Jonathan Pinque have combined to average 183 yards a game from the tailback spot. Meanwhile, you wonder of the Roos have taken a step backward with seven turnovers and 444 yard allowed per game so far.

Independent Games

Hampden-Sydney (3-0, 0-0 ODAC) at Huntingdon (2-1): The Hawks will hope for a better result than the 38-21 loss to the ODAC Tigers in 2007. They could be 3-0 but blew a 21-2 lead to Birmingham-Southern a couple weeks ago. Both teams have high-powered offenses, so expect some points.

North Carolina Wesleyan (0-2, 0-0 USA South) at LaGrange (1-2): The Panthers host future USA South rival NC Wesleyan for the first time. The Battling Bishops haven’t won yet but played a pair of tough nonconference tilts against Ohio Northern of the OAC and Hampden-Sydney. LaGrange will have to get their offense going if they want to win this one.

Feel free to send me your comments at jason.bowen@d3sports.com. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter (@D3Jason).

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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join D3football.com for his first season as the Around the South columnist.
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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