In the midst a college football season with legendary programs like Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, it's easy to forget that a lot of colleges play football under the radar and off scholarship. Two of the best play Saturday night at 6 p.m. in Seguin, Texas.
Texas Lutheran and Mary Hardin Baylor are newcomers to college football in the grand scheme. Mary Hardin Baylor started a football program from scratch in 1998, hiring the only coach they've ever known - Pete Fredenburg. Fredenburg coached with Grant Teaff at Baylor from 1980 to 1993 and later with stops at LSU and Louisiana Tech. Texas Lutheran, in Seguin, resumed football after a 10 year hiatus in 1998. The Bulldogs were back to back National Champions in 1974 and '75 under then coach Jim Wacker.
The two schools didn't have a lot in common until the arrival of Danny Padron at Texas Lutheran in 2010. TLU managed two winning seasons from 1998 to 2010. Padron changed all that and starting with his 2013 squad his Bulldogs have gone 25-5 since including a 2014 playoff birth. Meanwhile Fredenburg turned UMHB, situated in Belton, into a Division III power.
Division III is a non-scholarship NCAA division. UMHB and TLU started/resumed football in 1998 in part to attract male students. Football is a great avenue for smaller colleges to increase male enrollment and give some notoriety to their university thru athletics. In Texas football is king so why not. Every year when ESPN broadcasts Mount Union vs. someone like Wisconsin Whitewater, for a reference point, that's the Division III title game. Mount Union by the way has won in or played in the Division III title game every year since 2005
Fredenburg's UMHB program experienced some growing pains early, the Crusaders went 7-16 his first two seasons, then something amazing happened and it's still happening. The Cru, as their known around Belton, have reeled of 16 straight winning season, the last ten with ten or more wins and playoff births every year since 2004. Heading into last season the Cru had won 34 straight American Southwest Conference games. They've won the ASC crown eleven straight years and thirteen of the last fourteen. You'd have to go back to 1999 for a season when the Cru finished worst than second or lost more than one conference game. Fredendburg's teams have made the Division III semis four times and played in the National Championship game in 2004.
Padron came to Seguin from the high school ranks, coaching around San Antonio for four decades including stops with the great D.W. Rutledge at Judson. The Bulldogs play in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, with the likes of Austin College, Trinity, and Southwestern University in Georgetown. Padron and the Bulldogs have owned the league since 2013, winning three straight conference titles and going undefeated in league play.
Neither the SCAC nor the ASC get an automatic bid into the Division III playoffs, so for either TLU or UMHB to make the playoffs, they have to not only win their league, but impress a bid committee. That's why a conference championship at TLU in 2013 and 2015 didn't come with a playoff bid. Here's the kicker, Padron and his Bulldogs need to beat the Cru to impress the voting block. A task that the Bulldogs have done all of once in 18 seasons. That's right, since 1998 the Bulldogs have one win over the Crusaders. That's why Saturday night is so important.
The two team actually met in TLU's one and only post 1998 playoff appearance, a 27-20 win by the Crusaders in Belton in 2014. The Crusaders have become Padron's white whale, in 2010 UMHB destroyed his Bulldogs 81-3. Since then he's been chasing UMHB, so has everyone else.
UMHB has built one of the truly beautiful stadiums in college football. Built in 2013, the Cru opened Crusader Stadium on the west side the Mary Hardin Baylor campus. The stadium seats just under 8,000 and is quite an upgrade over Tiger Stadium at Belton high school where the Crusaders played prior to 2013. Crusader Stadium is a facility that is pound for pound a elite as any in the country.
Texas Lutheran played games at Seguin's Matador Stadium until they themselves built an on campus facility in 2014, they are upgrading that facility in phases, an $18 million dollar investment.
Both teams play aggressive wide open football. In 2015, UMHB averaged 49 points a game while TLU scored 40 a game.
TLU and UMHB along with Hardin Simmons in Abilene are the most successful Division III division teams in the state. UMHB has set a standard and TLU is chasing and gaining ground. The two play again on Saturday night in what promises to be a high scoring affair. If you're in the neighborhood and you want to see some great football played by great student athletes, head over to Seguin, you'll find it at Bulldog Stadium.