NCAA Division-III Playoffs: R. 3, Crusaders v. Wildcats
NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs
No. 10 Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-1) vs.
No. 2 Linfield Wildcats (11-0)
How They Got Here:
The Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders won their 13th consecutive American Southwest Conference title, posing a 9-1 record during the regular season. Their only loss came against Hardin-Simmons, who was their opening round opponent in the playoffs. The offense scored at least 54-points in six games, and their closest margin of victory was 28-points.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs the Crusaders got their revenge on Hardin-Simmons, wining 38-18. The Cowboys led the game 7-6 at half, but MH-B rolled in the second half, outscoring H-S 31-12. Duane Thompson rushed for 122-yards on just 15-carried in the victory, and Baylor Mullins returned an interception for a touchdown.
In Round 2, the Crusaders took on Huntingdon. The Hawks scored first, but Mary Hardin-Baylor responded with 17 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead. Bryce Wilkerson’s 50-yard punt return for a touchdown got the scoring going. The Hawks managed to pull within one, before the Crusaders scored 26 or the next 33 points to win 43-23. Zach Anderson passed for 293-yards and 3 TDs and ran for 78-yards and another score. Marcus Wimby had 6-catches for 132-yards and a touchdown.
The Linfield Wildcats won the Northwest Conference, posting a 9-0 record during the regular season. Linfield played dominating defense all season long, never allowing more than 14-points in any one contest, and finished by allowing just 61 total points. The offense was awesome, scoring over 70 in three games, and never producing less than 24-points.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs, the Wildcats took on No. 21 Whitworth. Whitworth took an early 3-0 lead before watching Linfield score 41 straight points on their way to a 48-10 victory. Running back Spencer Payne rushed for 139-yards on 25-carries and Sam Riddle passed for 268-yards and four scores.
In Round 2, Cortland State came west and battled hard before falling to the Wildcats 38-22. The Red Dragons trailed by just four heading into half, but Linfield put up 24 straight points to start the second half, and then held on as Cortland scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game. Riddle left the game early, but Tom Knecht came in and played incredibly well, going 10-16 for 106-yards and 2 scores.
Keys to the Game:
Anderson is the guy that makes this offense go. He threw for 2,419-yards and 22 TDs with 6-interceptions. He is going to have to make some real smart decisions and keep the chains moving for the Crusaders to pull this out.
Wykeyhe Walker and Marcus Wimby are going to have to be able to get open against this tough Linfield secondary, but this game will likely hinge on the secondary receivers. DeNerian Thomas will need to make some plays for MH-B to win.
The Crusaders have a great group on the backend of their defense, and if they can make some key interceptions this game can easily turn. Mullins is a serious ball hawk who led the team in interceptions, was second in tackles, plus he made 17 pass defenses/break ups. Raylon Hickey and Reggie Wilson have great hands and speed, making this a real difficult team to throw against.
The status of Riddle is up in the air, meaning Knecht could very well get the start. His play will be pivotal if the Wildcats are going to advance to the semi-finals. No one should believe that the Wildcats backup QB is a liability. He has proven to be sensational in limited action (72.3 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 631-yards passing, 34-47), so the Crusaders must prepare.
If Riddle is out, it will be clear that the team will want to take some pressure off of Knecht. That will best be accomplished by Payne having a big effect on the outcome. He has to shoulder the load early on to help Knecht settle in.
Alex Hoff and Marcus McGovern know how to disrupt a game with their pass rush abilities (24 sacks combined). They will likely be double or triple teamed on every passing play, meaning that other linemen need to step up.
Outlook: This should be a great game. Two very evenly matched teams, and the injury to Riddle makes this an even closer game. No one should underestimate the abilities of Knecht, however. He is a senior and is quite ready to step into the role of leader of this offense. This was a 10-point game with Riddle in; make it a 7-point one without. Take the Linfield Wildcats to win close, 30-23.
By Robert Pannier