Small College Recap: Mary Hardin-Baylor inches towards national title rematch

By Russell Wilburn

Team of the Week:

No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (13-0, 9-0)

Last Week: Mary Hardin-Baylor was pushed to the brink for the first time this season before Jefferson Fritz recorded his second interception of the game in the end zone with just over a minute remaining in the game to seal a 21-18 victory over No. 5 Saint John’s (Minn.) last Saturday in the NCAA DIII national quarterfinals. Jase Hammack gave a gutsy performance for the offense as he completed 15-of-28 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns while battling a leg injury. T.J. Josey caught four passes for 91 yards including an incredible catch and run for a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Cru up 21-11. K.J. Miller opened the scoring for the Cru with a 41-yard touchdown reception on the first drive of the game as he finished with five catches for 59 yards. Elijah Cross also recorded an interception for Cru defense who struggled to contain the Saint John’s pass attack as they allowed 418 yards passing. De Jackson recorded 10 tackles including eight solo tackles and two tackles for a loss. 

The Verdict: The Cru advance to the national semifinals for the third straight season and fourth time in six years and eighth time in program history. The Cru will meet Wisconsin-Whitewater in the semifinals for the fourth time. The Cru have never beaten the Warhawks in six previous meetings, but the teams last met on the field in 2013. The Cru will be tested but they have been set on avenging last year’s loss in the national championship game all season and are one win away from another chance to win the Stagg Bowl this time down the road in Shenandoah, Texas.

This Week: UMHB will host No. 4 Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-0, 7-0) this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the NCAA DIII national semifinals. The game will be televised on ESPN3.

NCAA DII Recap

No. 6 Tarleton State Texans (12-1, 8-0)

Last Week: Tarleton State was in control for the first half of their NCAA DII regional final game last Saturday until the ultimate home field advantage took over in the second half as the Texans fell 13-10 to No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato. The Texans held a 10-0 lead at the half before a snow storm hit in Mankato, Minn. causing white out conditions for the second half. The Mavericks turned the tide with a 27 play 97-yard drive that consumed 12:09 of game clock covering the majority of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter. Zimari Manning had an outstanding game as he recorded five receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown. Ben Holmes gave a gutsy performance on an injured leg as he completed 10-of-26 passes for 198 yards with a touchdown. EJ Speed finished his career as a Texan with an outstanding performance as he registered 17 tackles including nine solo tackles and an interception.

The Verdict: The Texans had a remarkable and record setting season. Tarleton State finishes with a school record 12 wins and their first outright LSC title in school history. The Texans also hosted their first NCAA DII football playoff game as they hosted the first two rounds. This was also the Texans first appearance in the regional final. Tarleton State also set new single-season records for rushing yards, rushing attempts, total offense, first downs, touchdowns, and points scored. The Texans will look to reload for another run next season as most of their key players were seniors.

This Week: Tarleton State has concluded its season. 

Angelo State Rams (6-6, 4-4)

Last Week: A 53-yard touchdown pass with 1:12 remaining in the game capped a comeback from 14 points down with 10:13 to play as Central Oklahoma defeated Angelo State 41-34 in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl last Saturday. Keke Chism had another outstanding game as he caught seven passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. Payne Sullins was also solid for the Rams as he completed 20-of-34 passes for 379 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Three different Rams scored rushing touchdowns as Tony Jones, Ronald Winston, and Spencer Gilbert each found the end zone. Harlon Hill finalist and D2CCA Super Region Four Defensive Player of the Year Markus Jones recorded seven tackles including 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble to lead the Rams defense.

The Verdict: The Rams had one of their best offensive games of the season in the first game that new head coach Jeff Girsh had time to prepare his team. The Rams need to learn how to close out a game as most young teams often struggle in that department. ASU has many reasons to be optimistic heading into next season after this performance. The Rams are a very young team and the extra practice time to prepare for the bowl game will prove valuable next season as they look to challenge for a Lone Star Conference title.

This Week: ASU has concluded its season.

NJCAA Recap

No. 4 Kilgore Rangers (10-2, 5-2)

Last Week: Kilgore continued to dominate their competition last Saturday as they defeated No. 20 Pima 28-0 to win the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl in windy Waco, Texas. The Rangers rolled up 231 total rushing yards led by De’Montre Tuggle led the team with 132 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries while quarterback Quez Allen added 47 yards and a touchdown, and Carlos Frank contributed 32 yards and a touchdown. The Rangers defense was dominating as they forced four interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and recorded four sacks. Brian Holloway recovered a fumble for a touchdown and Kelton Moss, Kaleb Ford-Dement, Geovante Howard, and Reshawn Parker each recorded an interception for the Rangers defense that also forced a safety in the second quarter.

The Verdict: The Rangers cap an amazing season as they finish with eight straight victories and the Southwest Junior College Football Conference champions. The Kilgore defense only allowed 119 total points in their last eight games and the offense scored 337 points over that span. The Rangers also finish with an amazing 10 wins this season. Kilgore now takes a ton of momentum into the offseason as they look to reload with a good recruiting class. 

This Week: Kilgore has concluded its season.

No. 15 Blinn Buccaneers (7-4, 4-3)

Last Week: Blinn College held off a late rally by Scottsdale Community College as the Buccaneers won the Valley of the Sun Bowl 23-20 at Scottsdale Stadium last Saturday. Brock Landis had a great game for the offense as he completed 21-of-35 passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Carlos Grace had an outstanding game on the ground as he gained 162 yards rushing on 29 carries. Xavier Hutchinson and Keric Wheatfall each caught a touchdown pass for the Buccaneers. The Blinn defense was outstanding as they recorded seven sacks, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions. Tuciano Pope once again led the way with 10 total tackles including eight solo tackles. 

The Verdict: The Buccaneers end the season on a high note with their first bowl victory since 2011 and the first bowl win for head coach Ryan Mahon in his third season at the helm. Blinn suffered multiple injuries to multiple key players this season but showed a ton of resiliency and heart to overcome those injuries and still record seven wins this season. Coach Mahon has plenty of ammunition to use in recruiting this year as Blinn looks to reload and challenge for a conference title next year.

This Week: Blinn College has concluded its season.

Navarro Bulldogs (6-5, 4-3)

Last Week: No. 13 Hutchinson defense was stout as they only allowed Navarro 199 total yards of offense as Navarro fell 35-6 in the Salt City Bowl at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson, Kan. last Saturday. Parker McNeil led the Bulldogs offense as he completed 23-of-40 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jared Wyatt caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Kody Fulp was outstanding for the Bulldogs defense as he registered 13 tackles including three sacks. The Bulldogs defense also forced a fumble and had an interception by Kaylon Geiger as the defense allowed Hutchinson to gain 331 total rushing yards in the game.

The Verdict: The Bulldogs had a good season this year. Navarro started the year with two wins including an impressive victory over Kilgore before the Bulldogs lost three of four games to finish September. The Bulldogs went on a run in October as they won three games in a row to make the SWJCFC playoffs and earn a spot in the conference championship game where they fell to Kilgore in the rematch. The Bulldogs will look to recruit and replenish their roster to make another run next season.

This Week: Navarro College has concluded its season.

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