Cary Fowler says the rivalry is bigger than him having coached at Midwestern State before coming to Tarleton State in 2008 and being promoted to head coach in 2010.

He says it’s bigger than the two football teams, and even bigger than the two basketball teams that seem to annually fight for Lone Star Conference supremacy.

“It’s the two cities,” said Fowler. “I think it goes back to all Stephenville’s battles with (Wichita Falls) Rider in football several years ago. That happened, and then Tarleton and Midwestern turned up the heat in the basketball rivalry, then they beat us in 2010 and 2011 in football and it kind of just took on legs of its own.

“We here at Tarleton sure like to beat Midwestern,” he added. “But I bet those guys at Midwestern would tell you they sure like beating Tarleton, too.”

Both teams will have their shot when they meet at AT&T Stadium Saturday, the final day of the third annual Lone Star Football Festival. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. in the middle of three games Saturday, a conference game between the Texans and No. 13 Mustangs.

Midwestern is defending LSC co-champion and is picked to finish second in the conference according to the annual preseason poll comprised of votes by head coaches, sports information directors and designated media. But Fowler says his Texans, while respecting Midwestern, don’t fear the Mustangs.

“We’re not afraid of anybody. Last year, they came down to Stephenville ranked fourth in the country and we beat them,” he said. “Does that mean we’ll beat them this year? No, of course not. We have to go out and earn that Saturday. But it’s nice going in there knowing it can be done and it was done just last year.”

Tarleton returns nine starters on each side of the ball, and much hype has centered around the return of two quarterbacks with starting experience, both leading receivers and the school’s top two running backs.

But Midwestern also enters the season with a great deal of hype, much of it centering around Keidrick Jackson after he rushed for 1,382 yards and 21 touchdowns last fall.

“He’s great, no doubt about it,” Fowler said. “Last year, we were fortunate to run the ball well enough ourselves that we controlled the clock and didn’t give him a lot of opportunities.”

Midwestern doesn’t have a returning quarterback who has thrown more than 28 passes, but the Mustangs are turning to a Wichita Falls native at that position. Shavodrick Beaver, who played against Stephenville High School from 2005-07, has transferred to MSU.

“He’s dangerous, he’s mobile and a gifted athlete,” Fowler said. “You can do a lot of things with a quarterback like that.”

Tarleton has won eight of its last 10 against Midwestern, including seven straight from 2001-09 (they did not play in 2002 or 2003). The Texans lead the overall series 16-7. They have never played at a neutral location, let alone one as grand as AT&T Stadium, the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys. Tarleton is 0-1 there, having fallen 34-31 to Abilene Christian last year. MSU is 2-0 at the venue, having routed A&M-Commerce in the last two festivals.

The festival begins at 7 tonight when West Texas A&M faces Chadron State. Friday’s games feature Eastern New Mexico against Sul Ross State at 1 p.m., Texas A&M-Commerce against Delta State at 5 p.m. and Mexico City against Puebla (Mex.) at 9 p.m. Saturday games begin at noon with Texas A&M-Kingsville against Monterrey Tech (Mex.) followed by Tarleton and MSU at 4 p.m. and Angelo State against Colorado State-Pueblo at 8 p.m.