DCTF Game of the Week: No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. No. 1 North Central (Ill.)

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No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor vs. No. 1 North Central (Ill.)

When: 6 p.m. Friday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio

Broadcast: ESPNU

The Matchup: The 48th edition of the Stagg Bowl features two teams who have never met on the gridiron.

Despite being the top two teams in the polls for most of the season, both teams were forced to go on the road last week in the semifinals against traditional powerhouses, with UMHB defeating Wisconsin-Whitewater 24-7 and North Central earning a 26-13 win over Mount Union.

North Central is the reigning national champion and owns the longest winning streak in college football with 24 consecutive victories.

The Cru won national titles in 2016 and 2018 and are in the Stagg Bowl for the fourth time in the last five postseasons.

UMHB has been on a roll since opening the playoffs with a 13-3 victory over Trinity. Since that opening round win, the Cru have outscored their last three opponents 115-38. The Cardinals’ first-round game was canceled, and they have outscored their three playoff opponents 115-39.

Last week, both teams played great defense, with UMHB holding Wisconsin-Whitewater to 271 total yards of offense, including 64 rushing yards. In comparison, North Central allowed Mount Union only 276 total yards of offense, including 72 rushing yards.

The North Central offense thrives on rushing the ball, averaging 309.2 rushing yards per game. The UMHB offense has been more balanced while averaging 470.9 total yards per game this season.

These teams are nearly identical statistically on defense, with North Central allowing 2.2 yards per rush attempt and 5.3 yards per pass attempt and UMHB allowing 2.3 yards per rush and 5.6 yards per pass.

You do not want to miss this game if you like old-school, physical football with outstanding defense.

Players to Watch: 

UMHB

Aphonso Thomas, RB, Jr, Ben Wheeler, Texas (Ben Wheeler HS)

Kyle King, QB, Sr, Milano, Texas (Milano HS)

Brandon Jordan, WR, Sr, Santa Barbara, Calif. (Carpinteria HS)

Jacob Mueller, LB, Sr, Fort Worth, Texas (Boswell HS)

E’Monte Smith, DE, Sr, Austin, Texas (Connally HS)

Jefferson Fritz, DB, Sr, Kaufman, Texas (Kaufman HS)

NCC

Ethan Greenfield, RB, Jr, Lindenhurst, Ill. (Lakes HS)

Luke Lehnen, QB, Fr, Chatham, Ill. (Glenwood HS)

Andrew Kamienski, WR, Sr, Pingree Grove, Ill. (South Elgin HS)

Storm Simmons, LB, Sr, Bloomington, Ill. (Normal Community HS)

Dan Gilroy, DL, Jr, Cary, Ill. (Cary-Grove HS)

De’Angelo Roberson, DB, Sr, Mount Prospect, Ill. (Prospect HS)

Key to Victory: The battle between the North Central offensive line and the UMHB defensive line will determine the 2021 national champion.

The Cardinals feature running back Ethan Greenfield, who has gained 1,672 yards and 23 touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per attempt this season. If you neutralize Greenfield, North Central will turn to Terrence Hill, who has averaged 7.9 yards per rush attempt while scoring 16 rushing touchdowns this year.

However, last week, the UMHB defensive line was more physical against a solid offensive line and will need a repeat performance against a smaller offensive line this week.

Prediction: Last week was the Brandon Jordan show for UMHB, with the 6-foot-6 receiver using his height advantage to gain 164 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions.

This week, Jordan will not enjoy an enormous height advantage, with North Central likely to place 6-foot-3 defensive back Jake Beesley on the Cru standout.

The computer gives North Central a slight edge with a 51 percent win probability. Last week, I went against the computer and I’m hesitant to go against the computer again.

However, UMHB showed the ability to use a short and quick passing attack to supplement the rushing game last week. That will be necessary again, with rushing yards tough to come by this week.

Give me the Cru and their third national title in the last five postseasons.

UMHB by 3

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