Small College Recap: Cru moves on, Texans heading home

Photo by Russell Wilburn

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Using an opportunistic defense, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor scored a thrilling 21-18 victory over No. 5 Saint John’s (Minn.) in the NCAA DIII national quarterfinals in Belton. The Crusaders move on to the national semifinals next Saturday against No. 4 Wisconsin-Whitewater at a site and time to be determined by the NCAA DIII playoff committee on Sunday. Saint John’s trailed the entire game but came up with a huge blocked punt that gave them the ball at the Crusaders six-yard line with 1:54 remaining in the game and trailing 21-11. A touchdown followed on the next play as Will Gillach caught a six-yard touchdown pass to pull Saint John’s within 21-18 with 1:49 left in the game. Saint John’s recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove down the field before their third interception of the game ended their upset hopes.


In the first game this season where the Cru was outgained on offense, the defense stepped up forcing three interceptions led by Jefferson Fritz, who intercepted two passes including the game clinching interception in the end zone with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter to end the final Saint John’s drive. Each UMHB interception came at critical points in the game with Saint John’s driving. Fritz’s first interception occurred at the Cru seven-yard line in the third quarter while Elijah Cross intercepted a Saint John’s pass at the Crusaders two-yard line with 2:36 remaining in the game. The Crusaders defense allowed a season high 465 total yards including 418 passing yards as Gillach torched the Cru defense all afternoon with eight receptions for 150 tough yards and two touchdowns. Jackson Erdmann had an outstanding performance for Saint John’s as he completed 28-of-43 passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions.


The Crusaders offense opened each half with a touchdown drive but struggled to gain any rhythm throughout most of the game. K.J. Miller scored a 41-yard touchdown reception from Jase Hammack to jump to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive. Markeith Miller finished the first drive of the second half for the Cru with a three-yard touchdown run. T.J. Josey scored the final touchdown for the Crusaders with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Hammack in the third quarter. The Crusaders offense was held to 315 total yards, led by Hammack who completed 15-of-28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Markeith Miller was held in check by Saint John’s as he gained 77 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.


No. 6 Tarleton State saw their best season in program history ended in heartbreaking fashion as Nate Gunn scored a 13-yard rushing touchdown with 1:47 remaining in the game to give No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato a 13-10 win. The second half of the game was played in a driving snow storm as the Mavericks had workers continually trying to keep the yard lines clear to little avail. The Texans finish their record-breaking season at 12-1 as they set a school record for most wins in a season and advanced to the NCAA DII national quarterfinals for the first time in school history. The Texans also hosted their first playoff games in school history in the first and second rounds of the playoffs.


Tarleton State led at the half and seemed in control of the game until a long third quarter drive by Minnesota State turned the momentum. The Texans opened the scoring on the first drive of the game as Joanly Martinez kicked a 29-yard field goal. Zimari Manning added to the Texans lead with a 67-yard touchdown reception from Ben Holmes in the second quarter. The Texans used an opportunistic defense to take the lead in to the half as they forced two Mavericks turnovers deep in Texans territory. Minnesota State missed a 44-yard field goal attempt wide right on their second drive and had another drive stall at the Tarleton State five-yard line after a fumble. EJ Speed intercepted a Mavericks pass at the Texans four-yard line with three seconds left in the half.


The second half started with a more of the same as Jai Edwards recorded an interception for Tarleton State on the Mavericks first drive of the second half. The ensuing drive for Tarleton resulted in a three-and-out with 11:19 left in the third quarter and the Texans’ offense did not get the ball back again until the fourth quarter. Minnesota State turned the momentum with a clock killing 27-play, 97-yard drive that took 12:09 off the clock and ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Schlichte to Shane Zylstra on fourth down. The Texans best drive of the second half ended with a turnover on downs at the Mavericks 16-yard line with 7:42 to play. 


Minnesota State was able to accomplish a task no other team could accomplish against Tarleton State as the Mavericks gained 350 rushing yards and the Texans were only able to gain 169 rushing yards in the snow. Ben Holmes provided another gutsy performance as he completed 10-of-26 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown while adding 76 rushing yards on six carries. Zimari Manning had another outstanding game as he caught five passes for 140 yards and a touchdown while Xavier Turner was held in check with 78 rushing yards on 22 carries.


Four Texas small colleges are playing in bowl games today. A full recap of each team will be provided next week. Here are the scores from today’s bowl games:

No. 4 Kilgore 28, No. 20 Pima 0 in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl

Blinn 23, No. 14 Scottsdale 20 in the Valley of the Sun Bowl

No. 13 Hutchison 35, Navarro 6 in the Salt City Bowl

Angelo State vs Central Oklahoma in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl

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