NCAA Division-III Playoffs: R. 2, Hawks v. Crusaders
NCAA Division-III Playoffs
Huntingdon Hawks (10-1)
No. 10 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (10-1)
How They Got Here: In just their third season in the USA South Athletic Conference, the Huntingdon Hawks rolled through the conference, posting a 7-0 record. The Hawks began the season 1-1 after beating Louisiana College to open the season, but then fell to Birmingham-Southern by one-point. Huntingdon then caught fire, winning their last eight games in dominating fashion. The Hawks were never held to less than 31-points in any game.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-III playoffs, the Hawks defeated the Hendrix Warriors 38-27. The Warriors actually led the contest at one point, 17-7, after an eight-yard touchdown pass from Seth Peters to Ben Luedtke. The Hawks took the lead for the first time with back-to-back touchdowns. Hendrix retook the lead on a 75-yard pass play between Peters and Luedtke, but Huntingdon took control of the game from there. They scored 17 of the next 20 points, highlighted by John Iwaniec’s third touchdown of the game. Iwaniec finished with 122-yards rushing and 3 TDs.
The Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders won their 13th consecutive American Southwest Conference title after going 4-1 in the conference. Their only defeat was a three-point loss to Hardin-Simmons on Halloween, but otherwise MH-B dominated games like few others. The closest margin of victory for the team was 28-points, and six times this season the Crusaders scored at least 54-points. This is a very potent offense that is backed by a defense that allowed fewer than 20 points six times.
In their opening round match of the NCAA Division-III playoffs the Crusaders had the opportunity for a little sweet revenge against Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys scored first and led 7-0 through the first quarter. A five-yard touchdown pass from Blake Jackson to Marcus Wimby made it just 7-6 heading into the half. Inclement weather made this a defensive struggle for the first 30 minutes, but the Crusaders came out fired up in the second half, outscoring the Cowboys 31-12.
A fumble recovery at the Hardin-Simmons five led to the first score of the half, making it 13-7. Baylor Mullins intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone for a touchdown to move the score to 20-7. The Cowboys cut the deficit to 20-13, but a 53-yard touchdown run by Duane Thompson and a nine-yarder by Blake Jackson sealed the victory. Thompson had 122-yards rushing on 15-carries, and Mullins made 10 tackles to go along with his pick-six.
The Huntingdon Hawks have a dynamic quarterback in Luke Bailey. The junior threw for 2,390-yards and 26-touchdowns, but also showed he is quite careful with the ball, being picked off just six times. On the ground the Hawks QB gained 499-yards with 6 TDs.
Junior John Iwaniec proved against Hendrix that he can carry a team on his back. He missed two games this season, but still gained 910-yards and 15-touchdowns. He has an impressive 6.3 yards per carry average. Vic Jerald is the backup for the Hawks and he could start most places. The sophomore gained 609-yards and 5 TDs, posting his own impressive ypg average at 6.6.
Huntingdon has one of the most impressive linebacking corps in the country. Senior Jake Green leads the team in tackles, plus he has 2-interceptions, 2-fumble recoveries and 6-pass breakups. He has great instincts as does senior Jacob Wright who had 3-sacks and a forced fumble as well as being second on the team in tackles. Freshman Trey Hayes is proving that the game is not too big for the first year player.
Defense linemen Heath McCray and Drew Wheeler led the team with 6.5 sacks each. They both know how to shed blockers to get to the quarterback and should have a huge impact in this game.
The Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders are led by quarterback Zach Anderson, who threw for 2,126-yards and 19-touchdowns. The Crusaders QB is very smart with the ball, throwing just five picks, and he knows how to rally his offense.
Anderson’s two favorite targets are Wykeyhe Walker and Marcus Wimby. Walker has made 48-catches this season for 843-yards and 11-touchdowns. Wimby made 33-catches for 606-yards and has three scores. The two make plays, know how to get open, and have great hands.
On defense Jon Isom and Teidrick Smith are sack machines. Isom recorded a very impressive 12-sacks, while Smith has a ridiculous 17. These two get pressure and make quarterbacks make mistakes. Add Haston Adams and his 9.5-sacks and this team is tough to scheme against.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the Crusaders defense knows how to make plays all over the field. Pierce Thedford led the team in tackles with 89, and Baylor Mullins was second (74), plus he led the team in interceptions with 5 and made 10-pass defenses. Reggie Wilson intercepted 4-passes and led the team with 11-pass defenses.
Outlook: This is a tough matchup for the Huntingdon Hawks. They have a sound defense, but they don’t have the horses to keep up with Walker and Wimby. The Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders are just too tough. Crusaders win 44-23.
By Robert Pannier