ALLIANCE, Ohio — For the better part of three quarters, Mary Hardin-Baylor was steaming toward Salem, Va., and its second appearance in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
In a span of about 4 minutes, though, the oars came out of the water for the Crusaders, and Mount Union (Ohio) sailed past to earn a shot at its 11th NCAA Division III national championship.
Second-ranked UMHB had a 35-28 fourth-quarter lead slip away late, as top-ranked Mount Union scored 20 points in the final 3:42 to rescue a 48-35 victory in a national semifinal Saturday afternoon at Mount Union Stadium.
The Crusaders (13-1) didn’t trail for a stretch of more than 33 minutes midway through the physical contest, but it was the Purple Raiders (14-0) who survived to capture their eighth straight Stagg Bowl berth since a 2004 semifinal loss to UMHB.
“Our defense played very well today,” said Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who has been at the helm for all 10 of the school’s national titles. “Mary Hardin-Baylor is right there at the top of the charts with their offensive numbers. That great defensive effort allowed us to overcome five turnovers.”
UMHB’s offense that sputtered most of the day — scoring all five of its touchdowns after Purple Raider turnovers — caught a break when senior cornerback Brodrick Crain (Belton) provided points by returning an interception 42 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 Crusaders lead 4 minutes in the third quarter.
UMHB’s only other points of the second half came on senior quarterback LiDarral Bailey’s 3-yard option keeper for a 35-28 edge with 7:39 remaining. The Crusaders, who came in averaging more than 500 yards per game, were limited to 275.
In between Crain’s interception and Bailey’s touchdown, the Purple Raiders got a 10-yard scoring pass from sophomore Kevin Burke to Julius Moore and Nyejel Moore’s recovery in the end zone of a blocked Chad Peevey punt.
“I felt like he had time, and our coaches upstairs felt like he had time,” said UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg said of the blocked punt, on which Peevey ran a few steps to his right before attempting the kick. “He’s made it for us before. Unfortunately, that one didn’t work out.”
After Bailey’s option keeper put UMHB back on top, it was all Mount Union.
Exploiting a soft spot in the middle of the field, the Purple Raiders converted two third downs on the ensuing drive before Blair Skilliter plunged in from the 2-yard line to tie it at 35-35.
The Crusaders’ next possession netted only 4 yards, and Mount Union set up at its 29 with 2:09 to go and two timeouts remaining. Two Burke passes down the middle totaled 29 yards, Burke scrambled for 15 and Jake Simon ran for 11 before capping the drive with a 12-yard run up the middle with five seconds.
“We were trying to get everybody situated and lined up,” UMHB senior linebacker Javicz Jones said. “They snapped it quick and we didn’t get to him.”
Added Fredenburg: “We were supposed to have an end come underneath. We were just confused.”
Mount Union tacked on six meaningless points on the final play, on which the last of several UMHB laterals was snared by Matt Fechko and returned for a touchdown.
The Purple Raiders totaled 457 yards and receiver Jasper Collins had 11 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Burke passed for 268 yards and ran for 89.
“They did some things offensively that kept us on our heels,” Fredenburg said. “And then we couldn’t do a thing with the ball in the second half.”
The outcome also brought to a close the careers of Jones — the American Southwest Conference career tackles leader — and Bailey, who broke almost every UMHB single-season passing record as a senior. Jones had 10 tackles, a sack and an interception in his final game.
“It’s not a good way to end my senior season,” said Bailey, who was 9-of-19 for 113 yards to go with 24 rushing yards. “That’s the way it went, though. It doesn’t feel good.”