By Tony Adams
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team went into Saturday’s contest against Linfield College knowing full well that the Wildcats were out for payback following their early season matchup that resulted in a 66-27 loss at Crusader Stadium.
The Crusaders used a smothering defensive effort and big-play passing game, while not committing a turnover to post a 27-10 victory over Linfield in the Second Round of the NCAA Division III National Championships.
UMHB improved to 12-0 on the season with its first postseason victory over Linfield in five tries. The loss ends the Wildcats’ season at 9-2 with both of those losses coming against UMHB in Belton.
Linfield took a 3-0 lead when Willy Warne connected on a 22-yard field goal on the Wildcats opening possession of the game, but those would be the only points scored by the Linfield offense on the day.
Reggie Wilson intercepted a Sam Riddle pass to set up UMHB’s first score, as Blake Jackson found T.J. Josey all alone behind the Linfield secondary for a 76-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-3 Crusaders with 5:45 remaining in the first quarter.
UMHB’s defense forced a turnover on downs and the Crusaders drove 65 yards with Jackson capping it off with a six-yard scoring run to make it 13-3 UMHB at halftime. Markeith Miller scored on touchdown runs of three and eight yards in the third quarter to stretch the Crusaders’ advantage to 27-3.
Linfield cut into the lead when Kennedy Johnson returned a UMHB punt 75 yards for a touchdown with 10:51 left to play to close the gap to 27-10.
The Crusaders defense slammed the door from there to close out the win.
UMHB held the Wildcats to 375 yards of total offense, with just 236 of those coming through the air. The Crusaders finished with 415 yards of offense, including 256 passing yards. UMHB intercepted a pair of passes and recorded four sacks. The Crusaders did not commit a turnover and did not allow a sack in the game.
Jackson finished 14-of-19 passing for 256 yards and a score for UMHB, with 58 rushing yards and a touchdown. Miller ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and Josey caught four passes for a career-high 180 yards. Keith Reineke and Baylor Mullins topped the Crusaders with 11 tackles apiece and Brazos Fuller added 10 stops.
Riddle was 26-of-41 passing for Linfield for 236 yards but was under pressure most of the game. Spencer Payne ran for 55 yards on 13 carries and Reed Peterson caught nine passes for 141 yards.
Kyle Chandler had a team-high nine tackles for the Wildcats.
“I think it’s a great win,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I obviously have great respect for Coach (Joseph) Smith, their staff and the quality of players that they have. It was hard-fought contest and to be able to prevail, I think it says a lot about this team.”
Asked if it was a relief to beat Linfield, Fredenburg said that taking on the Wildcats is a challenge.
“It’s always hard to beat Linfield,” Fredenburg said. “Beating them twice is very hard. Now, we play them in this atmosphere…this arena…and it’s going to continue. Those are the things this team is positioning themselves to play in.”
UMHB will now advance to the National Quarterfinals for the ninth time in 19 seasons. The Crusaders will face Wheaton College (11-1) for a spot in the Semifinals. Wheaton advanced with a 31-14 win over North Central on Saturday. This will be the first meeting between UMHB and Wheaton on the football field, to be played at Crusader Stadium.