The No. 2 ranked Mary-Hardin Baylor Crusaders will welcome the Redlands Bulldogs in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs on Saturday. Redlands won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title after going 8-1, 7-0 in the conference to advance, earning a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Crusaders finished 10-0, winning the American Southwest Conference (ASC) and earning a spot in the NCAA playoffs for the 13th straight season.
How They Got Here:
Mary Hardin-Baylor finds themselves in familiar territory, winning the ASC and earning a No. 1 seed. The Crusaders had one of the most dominating seasons in the program’s history, scoring at least 56-points in every game but one. That was when they defeated Hardin-Simmons 20-15 on October 22. Otherwise, the team defeated every other opponent by at least 35-points, including three by better than 56. Their impressive run included a 66-27 thumping of Linfield College, a team that has been in the semi-finals the last two seasons. It was an unbelievable offensive showcase.
The Redlands Bulldogs lost their first game of the season, falling to Trinity 34-27. They, then, rolled to eight straight wins including defeating last season’s SCIAC champion, LaVerne, 49-14. The Bulldogs rolled in their early contest, winning their first four games by 92 combined points, but then they won a couple of nail-biters, 23-17 and 23-21, before crushing Whittier, 70-16. A 34-30 victory over Cal Lutheran closed out the season and gave them the conference title.
Mary Hardin-Baylor 56.3 PPG, 264.0 Rushing/Game, 249.9 Passing/Game, 513.0 Yards/Game
Redlands 39.0 PPG, 222.9 Rushing/Game, 240.6 Passing/Game, 463.4 Yards/Game
Mary Hardin-Baylor 13.6 PPG, 69.9 Rushing/Game, 231.1 Passing/Game, 301.0 Yards/Game
Redlands 21.8 PPG, 117.8 Rushing/Game, 226.6 Passing/Game, 344.3 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
The Challenge for any team that is facing the Crusaders is that it is a pick your poison kind of mentality. Markeith Miller rushed for 1,028-yards and 14-touchdowns, averaging a ridiculous 10.0 yards per carry. However, Duane Thompson (616) and Blake Jackson (579) each put up huge rushing numbers in limited action and added 6-TDs a piece. Then you have Jackson the passer, who threw for 2,302-yards with 29-touchdowns and 5-interceptions. He completed 65.7 percent of his passes to go along with his 579 yards rushing. He is one of the most dynamic QBs in the country. Six different players caught at least 12 passes this season, led by T.J. Josey, who had 39-receptions for 753-yards and six scores.
Keith Reinke leads the Mary Hardin-Baylor defense, making 76-tackles and recording a sack and an interception. Teidrick Smith picked up where he left off last season, recording 10.5-sacks and Baylor Mullins had 4-interceptions.
The Redlands offense has three different players that will get carries, led by junior Alex Andrighetto, who had 484-yards rushing and 6-TDs. Devin Appleton had 443-yards rushing and 2-scores and Conner Kennedy ran for 364-yards. QB Mitch Kidd passed for 1,565-yards and 19-TDs with 7-interceptions, and Cole Blackburn was the leading receiver, catching 51-passes for 595-yards and 2-scores. Kyle Kabeary led the team with 6-touchdown receptions and he and Christian Guzman both had yards per catch averages of better than 18.
Dustin Nascimento led the team with 63-receptions and added an interception. Brian Keyser and Joe Munroe each recorded 5-sacks.
Redlands has a quality team and they would be a real challenge for many teams, but this Mary Hardin-Baylor team is just a machine. They have the best offense in the country, and the Bulldogs only recorded 12 turnovers all season. Mistakes are not commonly made by the Crusaders and so this is not going to be a difference maker. Look for the Crusaders to score early and often, 66-7.
By Robert Pannier