COPPERAS COVE — McMurry quarterback Jake Mullin and wide receiver Greg Livingston couldn’t bear to watch the field goal try — they were too nervous.
But they wish they had.
Senior defensive lineman Corey Hall blocked the 39-yard attempt and the War Hawks beat Southern Arkansas 36-35 to win the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl — the first time it’s been held for Division II programs.
“None of the defenses could stop each other and I really wanted to leave my career with something big,” said Hall. “I’m a senior and to win something like this is so unbelievable.
Southern Arkansas (8-3) started the third quarter with the ball and a 14-7 lead, which ballooned to 21-7 after senior running back Carlos Brown scored from 19 yards out. But the War Hawks (8-3) outscored the Muleriders 29-14 the rest of the way to earn the win.
“Both teams were fantastic. SAU fought hard and they had a great game plan — but so did we,” said McMurry head coach Hal Mumme. “For us to make the transition from DIII to DII and win here says so much for our kids and program.”
Leading the way for the War Hawks was Mullin. The senior quarterback was 46-66 for 448 yards and three scores — he also ran for 19 yards and a touchdown and was named the bowl MVP.
“In the first half we weren’t closing out drives but in the second we were able to close out drives and that was the difference,” Mullin said. “I’m so proud of the way our guys played against Division II competition this year.”
Mullin’s huge night can be contributed to three factors — Greg Livingstion, Clinton McCoy and Jaret Smith. All three wide receiver pulled-in at least 10 catches, 100 yards and a touchdown. Livingston led the world with 18 catches for 137. Every time the War Hawks needed a play on offense Livingston was there to make it.
“He’s my main man. He’s been there all season and is a great player,” Mullin said. “He’s the one guy I can count on to make plays for me.”
Livingston was too excited to discuss himself or his accolades but heaped praises on his quarterback and offensive line while also explaining how he handled the final play: “My adrenaline was running and I couldn’t even watch the last play — words can’t explain the way I’m feeling right now.”
McMurry junior defensive back Cory Pippen intercepted a Tyler Sykora pass and returned it 54 yards to tie the game at 21-21 and it gave a visible shift in momentum to the War Hawks.
“They had been running that play all night so I finally was able to step in front of it — I looked up and there were two of my guys already blocking out ahead,” Pippen said. “I said to myself that I had to take it to the house.”
The Muleriders got a huge day on the ground from junior running back Mark Johnson, who earned MVP honors for his squad. Johnson ran for 264 yards on 30 carries and scored three times. Sykora, despite two interceptions, passed for 312 yards and a score.