On Saturday, the No. 2 ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders welcome the No. 12 ranked Wheaton Thunder in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. The Crusaders finished 10-0 in the regular season, then defeated Redland and Linfield to advance to Round 3. Wheaton finished 9-1 in the regular season, losing to North Central. They then defeated Huntingdon in the first round before avenging their one defeat, downing North Central last Saturday.
Run in the Playoffs
The Crusaders got a bit of a scare in the first round when the Redlands Bulldogs took a 21-14 lead heading into the half. However, after the break Mary Hardin-Baylor rolled behind their starting quarterback, as Blake Jackson had a touchdown run and 3-TD passes. The Crusaders scored the final 20-points of the game, led by Markieth Miller who scored two-touchdowns during that run.
In the second round, the Linfield Wildcats took a 3-0 lead, then the Crusaders responded with 27 unanswered points. Jackson had a 76-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Josey to put the team in front, and then he ran for a 6-yard score to extend the lead to 10. Miller added two touchdown runs in the third quarter to make it 27-3 and Mary Hardin-Baylor won 27-10.
Jackson finished 14-19 for 256-yards and a TD, and added 63-yards and a score on the ground. Miller ran for 90-yards and 2-TDs on 19-carries. Josey had 180-yards and a TD on just 4-catches. Keith Reineke and Baylor Mullins each had 11-tackles, and Reineke added a sack and an interception. Brazos Fuller made 10-tackles.
The Wheaton Thunder began the playoffs against Huntingdon and fell behind on a field goal, but they responded with 28 straight points to take the lead into the half. Eric Stevenson’s 54-yard interception return for a touchdown got the team rolling and Logan Miller blocked a punt and scored on the recovery as the Thunder rolled, 45-10.
Last weekend, Wheaton traveled to North Central, the spot where they had lost 35-25 on October 15. Andrew Bowers had two touchdown passes to Chase White and Broc Rutter had two touchdown runs as the two teams were tied heading into the final quarter. A 32-yard field goal by Stefan Knoerr put the Thunder ahead for good, and Sola Olateju had two touchdown runs to close out the scoring, 31-14.
Olateju finished with 175-yards and 2-touchdowns on 29-carries. White had 2-TD catches and 77-yards receiving. Both Chase Greenlee and Austin Hoover recorded 2-sacks.
Mary Hardin-Baylor PPG: 53.3, Rushing YDs/Game: 262.9, Passing YDs/Game: 249.5, Total YDs Game: 512.4
Wheaton PPG: 36.5, Rushing YDs/Game: 176.9, Passing YDs/Game: 250.3, Total YDs Game: 427.2
Mary Hardin-Baylor PPG: 14.5, Rushing YDs/Game: 72.7, Passing YDs/Game: 224.8, Total YDs Game: 297.4
Wheaton PPG: 13.8, Rushing YDs/Game: 56.9, Passing YDs/Game: 207.2, Total YDs Game: 264.1
Crusaders Keys to Success
- This is a powerhouse offense that should know that they can only be held down for so long. If they are stopped early, just ride the tide and know they will turn it around.
- Don’t let the crowd out of the game. This is Texas after all, and as long as they can keep the fans into it they will get some added inspiration.
- Don’t give Wheaton chances to stay in this game. The Crusaders have been so good at dashing any hopes that opponents have by continually scoring. They need to do that here as well.
Thunder Keys to Success
- Don’t be afraid to gamble. You are facing a high octane offense, so do what you can do get every point you can.
- Keep the running game involved. As long as you have the ball, the Crusaders offense does not. Prolonged time on the sideline can cause their offense to be antsy and make mistakes.
- Chase Greenlee and his group of sack happy defenders need at least four sacks in this game and to pressure Jackson every time he drops back. Pressure will make him make mistakes and they have the horses to be able to do that.
The Wheaton Thunder had a huge win last weekend when they downed North Central. It was impressive. They are a very good football team. The problem is that we think that Mary Hardin-Baylor is the best team in the country. We roll with the Crusaders who are going all the way. Take Mary Hardin-Baylor in a close battler, 34-27.
By Robert Pannier