Mary Hardin-Baylor completed its mission Friday night, defeating North Central (Ill.) 57-24 to claim the 2021 national championship in the Stagg Bowl.
The Cru displayed a big-play offense and exploited man coverage against their wide receivers throughout the game to cruise to their second national title in the last three years.
King of Division III
Officially, the Cru claim their second national title after winning it in 2018. However, UMHB has won three Stagg Bowls when you add the 2016 victory later vacated by the NCAA.
With their third national title (I still count 2016) in the last five postseasons, the Cru have established themselves as the premier program in all of NCAA Division III. The only other program comparable on any other level with the Cru is Alabama.
That is not hyperbole and I would argue that Pete Fredenburg belongs in the same conversation with Nick Saban. One difference between Saban and Fredenburg in recent years is that Fredenburg has been able to keep his coaching staff mostly intact.
The entire Cru coaching and support staff deserve credit for the football program reaching the highest levels of the sport. However, it truly takes an entire university focused on winning to build the program to its current stature.
There is no I in team
Another factor in winning a national championship is the commitment and brotherhood of every athlete. UMHB has multiple players who have put the team’s needs ahead of their preference.
Yours truly made a lot out of Kyle King being replaced at starting quarterback in the Cru’s quarterfinal victory over Linfield.
What impressed me the most during that week and the following weeks was King’s unselfishness. Surely he was disappointed, but his play over the last two weeks showed that he was motivated.
Tommy Bowden is another player for UMHB that will play at any position just to get on the field. Bowden was a quarterback during the 2021 Spring season and moved to wide receiver to begin this season.
However, it is on the defensive side of the ball where Bowden has impressed the most. He started at safety in the national semifinals against Wisconsin-Whitewater and looked like a four-year veteran against North Central Friday.
Not your typical Cru
During the Crusaders’ run to their first two national titles, the offense relied on a potent rushing attack to open up the play-action pass.
This version is not your typical UMHB offense. Instead, this year’s team has relied on the passing game to get the offense rolling before turning to the rushing attack to finish the game.
The passing game was clicking from the start Friday night, with King completing 22-of-29 passes for a program single-game record 436 yards and three touchdowns.
UMHB has a trio of talented wide receivers, and all three guys produced against North Central. Brenton Martin had a sensational game with nine receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown, while KJ Miller was terrific with nine catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Jordan added 66 yards and a touchdown on four receptions while being double-teamed most of the game.
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