The No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders welcome the No. 7 ranked Linfield Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs on Saturday. The Crusaders finished 10-0 this season and were winners of the American Southwest Conference (ASC). In the first round of the playoffs, Mary Hardin-Baylor defeated Redlands, 50-28. Linfield finished 8-1 this season, with their only loss coming to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second week of the season. The Wildcats won the Northwest Conference (NWC) and defeated Hardin-Simmons in the first round, 24-10.
How They Got Here
The No. 2 ranked Crusaders have rolled through the season. In their first two victories of the season they scored 56-points in each contest and had a shutout to start the year. In Week 3, Mary Hardin-Baylor welcomed the Wildcats to town and crushed them, 66-27. Through the first six weeks of the season the Crusaders had scored at least 56-points in every game. In fact, it had been an interesting set of pairs for the team. They scored 56 in each of their first two games, 66 in each of the next two, and then 59 in weeks 5 and 6. On October 22, Hardin-Simmons lost to the Crusaders 20-15, the closest any team would get to defeating MHB. They then rattled off three crushing victories to finish 10-0.
The Redlands Bulldogs were the opening round opponent for the Crusaders, and proved to be more of a handful than anyone expected, actually leading Mary Hardin-Baylor at the half, 21-14. However, the Crusaders came out in the second half and buried the Bulldogs, winning the game, 50-28. The special teams got the second half going with a blocked punt for a safety, and then the offense got a 38-yard touchdown pass from Blake Jackson to T.J. Josey and a six-yard TD run from Jackson to make it 30-21. A Bulldogs 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown made this a two-point game, but the Crusaders scored the final 20-points of the game led by two touchdown runs by Markeith Miller to close the game out.
Jackson finished 18-23 for 239-yards and 3-TD passes. He also rushed for 154-yards and a TD on 17-carries. Miller had 188-yards and 3-touchdowns rushing. Bryce Wilkerson had 99-yards and 2-TD receptions. On defense, Haston Adams recorded 2.5-sacks and Brazos Fuller and Teidrick Smith each had 1.5-sacks in the victory.
The Wildcats started the season with a 48-14 victory over Chapman, then travelled to Texas to take on the Crusaders. Following the loss, they rolled, winning the final seven games of the season. The closest margin of victory in that run was 14-points and they scored at least 33 in all but one of those games.
Linfield started the playoffs in Texas, taking on Hardin-Simmons. The Cowboys got a first quarter field goal to take the lead, before Same Riddle threw to Reed Peterson for a 16-yard touchdown to put Linfield on top. Hardin-Simmons retook the lead with a touchdown pass from Ryan Breton, but a three-yard TD run by Bryan Cassill put the Wildcats ahead to stay. Sutter Choisser’s 14-yard touchdown run put Linfield ahead 21-10 and they would add a 43-yard Willy Warne field goal to close out the scoring in the victory.
Riddle had his usual impressive performance, passing for 367-yards and a TD. Peterson had a huge day for the Wildcats, making 11-receptions for 207-yards and a TD. The Linfield defense recorded six-sacks, led by Eli Fults who had two and Marcus McGovern who had 1.5.
Mary Hardin-Baylor PPG: 47.8, Rushing YDs/Game: 200.8, Passing YDs/Game: 271.6, Total YDs Game: 472.5
Linfield PPG: 40.1, Rushing YDs/Game: 207.1, Passing YDs/Game: 325.2, Total YDs Game: 532.3
Mary Hardin-Baylor PPG: 10.9, Rushing YDs/Game: 62.5, Passing YDs/Game: 146.4, Total YDs Game: 208.8
Linfield PPG: 16.9, Rushing YDs/Game: 101.6, Passing YDs/Game: 190.3, Total YDs Game: 291.9
Why Mary Hardin-Baylor Will Win
- This team has no panic in them. While many may have been shaking their heads last Saturday when Redlands had the lead heading into the half, the Crusaders stayed calm and rolled in the second half.
- The Crusaders have the best offense in the country. There are some other teams putting up big numbers, but this offense is a machine. They are impossible to contain for long and, unless an opponent can score 45, they are not going to win.
- Mary Hardin-Baylor doesn’t just have a ridiculously good offense; they play incredible defense as well. They attack the quarterback well and take advantage of mistakes.
Why Linfield Will Win
- Sam Riddle has led this team to the semi-finals the last two seasons and is a proven winner. He is hard to contain for long and will have a huge day.
- The Wildcats can battle in a shootout as well as any team you name. They can score, and the 27-points they scored against the Crusaders earlier this season proves that they can put up some points.
- The September 17th game is motivation. The Wildcats were embarrassed and they want to prove that they can down MHB.
Both of these teams are battle tested and have proven that they can easily run the table all the way to the finals. You have to like the poise and experience of Riddle for the Linfield Wildcats. He is a true big game quarterback and will keep this game close. However, Mary Hardin-Baylor has a lot of weapons and they play outstanding defense. The score won’t be like it was in September, but the Crusaders will still win, 31-24.
By Robert Pannier