Crusader Football Advances to NCAA Semifinals
Published in the December 7, 2016 issue of The Bells
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders moved past the Wheaton College Thunder on the strength of a few big plays in Crusader Stadium on Saturday. The Cru football team was unable to move the ball on offense the way they usually do.
The nation’s top scoring offense, the Cru, has averaged 52.2 offensive points per game this season. The offense was held to just 24 points on Saturday. But they were still able to come away with a 38-16 victory.
The game got off to a slow start early as both teams seemed to be affected by the weather in this one. A cold and rainy first quarter ended without a score from either team. The Thunder got the scoring started five seconds into the second quarter with a 42-yard field goal. After a Cru interception by senior defensive back Baylor Mullins, senior quarterback Blake Jackson was finally able to put the Cru on the board with a 4-yard scamper into the end zone.
The score gave the Cru a 7-3 lead with eight minutes left in the half. Then, with 1:12 left, sophomore linebacker Tevin Jones tipped an errant pass up to himself and came down with another UMHB interception.
The turnover led to more points for the Cru, as the offense held the ball for 12 plays on six minutes to add a 20-yard field goal to extend its lead to 10-3. They left just 20 seconds on the clock for Wheaton before halftime. They elected to take a knee and carry the 7-point deficit to halftime.
The second half started with a bang when the Cru defense forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing punt attempt, junior cornerback Reggie Wilson broke through the line and blocked the punt, the ball bounced all the way back into the end zone where it was recovered by Baylor Mullins for a Crusader touchdown.
The Wheaton offense was able to bounce back and score a touchdown on its next drive, but the Cru special teams came up with another big play, blocking the extra point attempt to hold the Thunder to six points. After the two great special teams plays, the score rested at 17-9 in favor of UMHB.
Later in the third quarter, the UMHB defense showed its big-play ability when sophomore cornerback Raylon Hickey intercepted a pass and ran it back 32 yards for a touchdown. Then after a Wheaton touchdown, the Cru offense provided a big play of its own.
Jackson threw a pass deep downfield and hit junior wide receiver Bryce Wilkerson for an 80-yard touchdown to make the score 31-16 UMHB.
The Cru brought the 31-16 lead into the fourth quarter. The lone score of the last quarter came with just over two minutes left in the game. Sophomore running back Markeith Miller ran the ball 37 yards right through the Wheaton defense for a touchdown, while the Cru was attempting to run the clock out and end the game. The touchdown run made the score 38-16, which became the final score.
The Cru defense and special teams came up big in a big situation, scoring twice and coming up with two blocks and nine tackles for a loss. Raylon Hickey was one of the big-time defenders in this one, coming up with a pick six to help give the Cru the win.
“Throughout the game, we had multiple plays made, and I dropped a few picks so I had to just come back and answer with one and take one to the house,” Hickey said.
The Cru will now move on to the semifinals to face the No. 7 Mount Union Purple Raiders. UMU has made it to the Division III National Championship game in each of the past 11 seasons, and 18 of the past 20 seasons.
The Purple Raiders blew past No. 14 Alfred 70-45 on Saturday. This will be the biggest test of the season for the Cru, and the players feel as though they are ready for it.
“We’ve never played them before, so you know I’m excited to see what happens on Saturday,” senior defensive end Teidrick Smith said.
The semifinal showdown will take place in Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas on December 10. The winner of that game will go on to the “Stagg Bowl” to contend for a national championship.