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Football Rediscovering Identity In Preparation For McMurry War Hawks

Football Rediscovering Identity In Preparation For McMurry War Hawks

This week, the Southwestern University Pirates football team leaves the comfortable surroundings of home in search of something familiar against the McMurry University War Hawks. 

In six games, the Pirates have switched from one makeshift system to another as injuries at key positions reduced the knowledge base of schemes or the skill sets needed to efficiently run them. 

On Saturday, the Pirates hope to reclaim their identity. 

"We've gotten as healthy as we're going to be, so it's time to get back to our identity," Head Coach Joe Austin declared. "We're trying to get back to the types of systems we've been recruiting to, the types of plays we want to run. We're trying to reestablish who we are." 

They'll do so against a McMurry team at the bottom of the American Southwest Conference standings showing punch beyond the boxscore in recent weeks.

"McMurry is getting better. Last week, they went on the road and almost beat East Texas Baptist University," Austin said. "When you watch the film, they really did give them all they could handle. It was a very tight, well-played game." 

Series History

The history between the two teams goes back to 1930, opening with a 0-0 tie, and McMurry taking a 8-6-2 record before Southwestern University disbanded its football program. 

Since its reinstatement as a Division III team, the Pirates have won four consecutive games against the War Hawks, earning this iteration's first road win with a 7-6 victory in 2015 and a 37-6 win last season. 

Last Week

In his third career start, McMurry first year quarterback Hagen Garvin showed flashes with 141 yards, combining with sophomore running back Kameron Session (18 carries, 96 yards) to give the War Hawks some production from the backfield . 

That, and a solid defensive outing, was enough to put McMurry in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter after an 8-play, 60-yard drive brought the War Hawks to within 19-21 but McMurry failed to score the two-point conversion. 

Southwestern pit its pared-down offense and makeshift defense against No. 1-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor and came away with reasons for optimism in a 33-3 loss. 

"I thought we did a good job of bending but not breaking, especially when you consider the personnel we had," Austin said. "We held [UMHB] to their fewest rushing yards this season and forced them to punt more than anyone in conference had." 


Southwestern matches the third-ranked scoring defense in the ASC (17.7 points allowed per game) against McMurry's eighth-ranked scoring offense (15.2 points per game). 

Hallmarks of the Pirate defense remain in place, from the ASC's third-ranked rushing defense (134.2 yards per game), to the top-ranked red zone defense (0.474 average). How Southwestern has hit those marks has fluctuated wildly. 

"[Defensive coordinator Bill] Kriesel is doing a great job," Austin said. "In the past five games, we've played four different defenses out of necessity and I think he's done a great job of working with what we have." 

Last week, the Pirates went with a four-man defensive front, taking advantage of their most intact defensive unit. 

Defensive ends Garrett Womack and Nicholas Smith have given the Pirates a solid foundation up front, ranking third and fifth on the team in tackles with 27 and 22. Womack has been particularly disruptive, tying ETBU's Anton Clark for the ASC lead in total sacks with 6.5 and fourth in tackles for loss with 9.0. 

"He's got a great motor and is really assignment sound," Austin said. "We ask him to do a lot of things. He plays multiple gaps, he slants, and is part of stunts. He's really quick and agile, which is tough for offensive linemen because they can't get their hands on him." 

Womack will have opportunities against an offensive line that has given up the most sacks (20 for 146 yards) in the ASC this season. 

The Pirates have also been reinforced with the return to health of cornerbacks Dameon Dawson and Jackson Reece, along with the steady play of team captain Josiah Minnifield

Minnifield is second on the team in tackles with 32, including three for loss with a four passes broken up. A lot of whatever familiarity remains in the Pirate defense stems from Minnifield's ability to step into unfamiliar roles. 

"He's a guy who plays somewhere different every week. He's a really versatile senior," Austin said. "Right now, from week-to-week, we put him where we feel the biggest need is. Sometimes it means he's sacrificing stats, but he's still been a selfless leader and great team captain." 

On offense, the Pirates are relying more on a return of excised portions of its playbook than the return of injured players. 

Coleman Kerr has made starts while struggling through injuries and backup J.J. Slack has made the full-time transition from slot receiver and special teams coverages to quarterback. Each have picked up more of the offense with each passing week and should have something resembling its complete playbook this weekend. 

"J.J. is quickly learning what's going on. Every week he has a bigger part of the offensive pie and this week will be another big step forward," Austin said. "He's done well with whatever we ask him to do, making plays, and doing a good job for someone with very little technical training.

"We haven't really run our full offense since the season opener and hopefully we can get back to our full base system."