This matchup isn’t to be confused with the approach some schools take of easing into the college football season against an overmatched opponent.
When the Whitworth Pirates entertain Hardin-Simmons at 1 p.m. today at the Pine Bowl, they will be tangling with the 15th-ranked team in Division III and an opponent that hung a 48-31 loss on the Pirates in Abilene, Texas, to open the 2009 season.
“Hardin- Simmons is a team that feels it has a shot at winning the whole thing (national championship),” Whitworth coach John Tully said.
Both teams’ 2009 seasons veered off course when they were hit by injuries. Whitworth lost 2008 All-American running back Adam Anderson early on and its top two quarterbacks at midseason. The Pirates rallied to a 5-5 record by winning three of their last four. Hardin-Simmons lost 2008 All-American quarterback Justin Feaster and standout receiver ZaVious Robbins during a defeat to Linfield, Whitworth’s Northwest Conference rival, and finished with a 6-4 mark. Like Anderson, both Cowboys were granted medical redshirts.
In last year’s meeting, Whitworth led 24-13 at half but was trampled by the Cowboys’ 35-point, 370-yard second-half explosion. Feaster passed for 285 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 64 yards and a pair of scores. Anderson had 229 all-purpose yards and scored two TDs.
“It’s a big game both ways, win or lose, (because) it will show us where we’re at,” said Anderson, who is working his way into shape following offseason ankle surgery. “They’re a good team, a really good team and it’s definitely going to be a hard game. They have a lot of starters back.”
All 11 starters on offense and eight on defense, to be exact. The Pirates return 15 starters, nine on defense, but senior tackle Travis Niles (knee) is not expected to play. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Eglet, who became the starter last season after injuries to Andrew Durant and Cub Jansen, has been impressive in preseason drills.
“There’s a learning curve you have to go through,” Tully said. “For him to have the opportunity to learn and then the chance to play in games (last year), he’s very aware of what we’re trying to do and his reads are getting better all the time.”