In a series dating back to 1920, Tarleton State and Abilene Christian never met at a neutral location until last year's Lone Star Football Festival at AT&T (then Cowboys) Stadium.
But when they finally did, the Texans and Wildcats enjoyed playing in front of 20,000-plus fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex enough that they decided to do it again at another impressive venue.
Now a member of Division I Football Championship Subdivision, ACU is surrendering a home game to instead include its longtime rival on a trip to Frisco's Pizza Hut Park to play at Toyota Stadium. Kickoff Saturday between the longtime rivals is set for 4 p.m.
"I love the idea behind this. Both schools have more alumni in the Metroplex than anywhere else in the world, and both teams have a lot of players from that area. It's an exciting opportunity for everyone involved from the marketing people at the two schools to the fans and family of the players," said fourth-year Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "We don't have Abilene Christian penciled in for next year, but I'm already campaigning for us to continue this. I don't care what division they're in, it's a healthy rivalry, and I think we should continue to play them somewhere in the Metroplex every year."
As impressed as Fowler is with Toyota Stadium, he sounds equally impressed when he discusses ACU.
"Great football team, lot of guys back from last year," said Fowler. "They have a lot of team speed, and they're a smart team. You just don't see many busted plays when you watch them on film. They run good routes, they execute well, it's just a very disciplined, good football team."
Fowler believes ACU is following the right blueprint to establish success in its new division.
"They kept their recruiting classes small the last couple years so they could really make a splash with their first Division I class," he said. "I've seen it recruiting against them, losing some kids to them because they can say they are Division I now. I think they have a tremendous freshman class, mostly waiting their turn, but some of them we'll see Saturday."
The Wildcats are 3-1 with victories over lowly Concordia College, Division II newcomer McMurry and New Mexico Highlands. They lost 31-17 last week at Illinois State.
ACU is led by quarterback John David Baker, who has passed for 16 touchdowns without an interception.
"He's a good game manager who makes smart decisions and distributes the ball well," said Fowler. "He has great players around him - a couple good backs and fast receivers who you can just tell are on the same page with him."
Charcandrick West is averaging 92.5 yards per game on the ground, and Darian Hogg is averaging better than five catches for 80 yards per contest.
Tarleton is 2-0 for the first time under Fowler, and is ranked No. 25 in the latest American Football Coaches Association Division II poll. The Texans upset Midwestern State in the Lone Star Football Festival, then scored with 30 seconds left to win on the road at Angelo State.
Jake Fenske and Aaron Doyle continue to rotate at quarterback. Each passed for two touchdowns last week, and Doyle also rushed for a score. Clifton Rhodes III caught the game winner and finished with 113 yards and and three touchdowns on five receptions.
Tarleton was dominant on the ground against MSU, with running backs Zach Henshaw and Jerome Regal combining for 173 yards. But they combined for only 46 at ASU last week, while Doyle led the team in rushing with 69 yards.
Defensively, Tarleton dominated Midwestern's rushing efforts in the opener before allowing almost 300 yards on the ground against ASU.
"We'll be fine against the run, we just played against a really good Angelo team with great personnel," Fowler said. "They've played (No. 5 Colorado State-Pueblo) and Tarleton and still have the number one offense in the league. I'm glad we played them early, because I'm telling you, they're good and on the verge of being really good."
He hopes the same is true for his football team, which lost 34-31 to the Wildcats last year.
"Can we beat (ACU)? Yeah, we can. It will take a tremendous effort, but we can," he said. "Both teams are pretty similar to what you saw last year when we played, and I think it will be another great game."