BELTON -- On a blustery cold afternoon on their home turf, the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (14-0) clinched their third straight NCAA Championship appearance, as they handed Wisconsin-Whitewater (12-1) their first loss of the season, 31-14.
After the Warhawk offense was stalled for the majority of the half, UMHB freshman receiver Aaron Sims looked to take advantage of their lack of offensive success as he returned a punt from his own 10-yard line. Sims tiptoed down the sideline and took it all the way back for a touchdown to give the Crusaders a 17-0 lead at the half.
“Obviously teams get better in the playoffs and you don’t get many too many returns and I knew if we got a couple good blocks I had a good chance to take it all the way,” Sims said.
The Warhawk offense caught fire at the beginning of the second half and scored on their opening drive and capped a 66-yard drive with a two-yard passing touchdown. However, nearly all of the momentum shifted towards the home team with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter when UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg dialed up a fake punt pass on 4th-and-2 from their own 28-yard line. The Crusaders converted their first fake punt of the year, a pivotal point in the game.
“It was crazy, I don’t know what went through my mind [to call that play],” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I felt like we have executed that play and when people don’t expect it — that’s the best time to do it. It worked well.”
UWW is known for playing ground-and-pound football but it was the Crusaders’ who dominated in the trenches. UMHB running back Markeith Miller toted the ball 33 times for 171 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Miller iced the game with 2:33 remaining as he broke several tackles and stretched into the end zone.
“In their game plan, they wanted us to work it down the field and that’s what we did. We took what they gave us and Markeith did what he always does,” UMHB quarterback Jase Hammack said. “It was such a good job by our offensive line and Markeith.”
Turnovers prevented any chance of a comeback for the Warhawks who coughed up two fumbles and had two interceptions. One of UWW quarterback Cole Wilber’s two interceptions came with 1:50 remaining and the Crusaders were able to run the rest of the clock out and seal the game.
“The most important things in a game are the score and the turnover ratio and they handily beat us at both,” UWW head coach Kevin Bullis said. “I thought that that was the biggest problem in the game.”
The win for Mary Hardin-Baylor marks the first time in program history that the Crusaders have taken down DIII powerhouse Wisconsin Whitewater. The Cru were previously 0-5 against the Warhawks, the only team that they hold an all-time losing record against.
“It’s absolutely incredible to beat them, it’s a great win for our program. It’s been such a tough task to beat them and it’s very rewarding for us,” Fradenburg said. “It’s really unbelievable, it’s been a great week.”
With the win, the Crusaders will play Mount Union on Friday night at 6:00 p.m. in the Stagg Bowl National Championship in Shenandoah, Texas. The Raiders (14-0) took down Johns Hopkins, 28-20, on Saturday morning. The Cru will be looking to get revenge as the Raiders beat them 12-0 in last year’s national championship game.
“We know that we will always have an incredible, competitive game on our hands, they play really well,” Fradenburg said. “I watched a little bit of their game and they do what they do. It will be an incredible challenge for us.”