BELTON – It was a familiar recipe on Saturday afternoon at Crusader Stadium as No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor used an opportunistic defense, key special teams plays and big plays on offense to roll past Huntingdon 42-6 in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Cru have won 15 consecutive playoff games at home and are in the third round of the DIII playoffs for the fifth straight season.
“We’re very excited to get this win,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “We are like most everybody at this point in time with injuries. We’ve got some guys that are banged up and have a little sickness, so we were worried about the game. We’re very happy about that win.”
“We knew what we were up against and we knew that Mary Hardin-Baylor is as fine of a football program as there is in the country,” Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said. “Disappointed in our result but I’m proud of the boys.”
The UMHB record book was rewritten by wide receiver Jonel Reed on Saturday afternoon. The senior from Boswell High School set the Cru record for receiving touchdowns in a single season as part of an outstanding performance.
Reed caught a 77-yard pass from quarterback Jase Hammack in the second quarter for Reed’s 13th touchdown reception this season. The touchdown broke a record set by Patrick Oliver in 2007 and Wykeyhe Walker in 2015.
Reed was not done setting records as he finished with 10 receptions for 253 yards which set the UMHB single season record for receiving yards.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” Reed said. “Of course, all of that stuff is great but it’s not going to mean anything if we don’t win the national championship.”
Jefferson Fritz was moved from free safety to weakside linebacker this week and the move paid off as Fritz recorded his third interception of the season.
The junior from Kaufman High School set the American Southwest Conference and UMHB career record with 19 interceptions.
“All year long I’ve been thinking about moving Fritz closer to the ball,” Fredenburg said. “I think he’s an incredible player and an incredible athlete so to get him closer to the ball would be pretty smart in my opinion.”
“I feel like I’m pretty comfortable especially for the first week there,” Fritz said. “It’s nothing like free safety. It’s a little closer to the ball and I like being closer to the ball.”
The Cru defense set the tone once again on Saturday as they forced four turnovers in the first half and blocked a field goal attempt.
The special teams also blocked the extra-point attempt following Huntingdon’s first touchdown which was returned by Fritz for two points.
Keith Gipson began the interception parade by dropping back in a zone defense to outjump the Hawk receiver on Huntingdon’s second drive.
“I don’t think they needed our help as much as we gave them in the first half with turnovers,” Turk said. “That was disappointing and got us behind quickly and made it difficult.”
UMHB would later force a fumble and Jayden Smith would add an interception that set up a Cru touchdown in the first half.
UMHB has only one standard for its program – to repeat as national champions. While today was another dominating victory for the Cru, questions remain on offense as UMHB prepares to face tougher competition.
The Cru offense was set up inside the Huntingdon 50-yard line four times in the first half thanks to the four turnovers. However, UMHB only produced 14 points out of those opportunities.
One area of concern entering the game for UMHB was the rushing attack. This game did very little to solve those concerns as the Cru ran for a total of 86 rushing yards on 25 attempts as the Hawks were loading the box and forcing UMHB to pass the ball.
“With us having a tight end there were six people in the box and there’s a seventh (player) hanging out,” Fredenburg said. “He either plusses or he hangs back, so we read the seventh player and threw the ball because he kept adding toward the line (of scrimmage).
“Do you throw it every time? Well, yeah if they’re going to play us that way you just continue to throw the ball. I think it’s important that we don’t force the issue. I think that’s where we have to go with our offense. We continue to spread the field and take what they give us.”
PLAYOFF TESTS BEGIN
The Cru will begin facing some of the top teams in the country next Saturday in the third round of the DIII playoffs when they meet No. 7 Wisconsin-Whitewater at a time and site to be determined by the NCAA on Sunday afternoon.
UWW defeated Wartburg 41-28 on Saturday and are a familiar foe of the Cru. UMHB defeated the Warhawks 31-14 in the national semifinals last season for their only win in six games against UWW.
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