BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor did not overlook Franklin College, but, even early, it was difficult to not turn its attention toward next week.
A majority of starters were pulled before halftime as the No. 2 Crusaders scored 28 consecutive points in the first quarter en route to a 63-17 victory against the Grizzlies in Saturday’s NCAA Division III second-round playoff game at Tiger Stadium.
Simultaneously, more than 1,500 miles away in Dover, Del., No. 5 Wesley College was cruising toward a 56-6 win against Cortland State. The outcomes propel the victors into a third consecutive quarterfinal encounter with the Wolverines winning each of the previous games. The Crusaders, however, beat Wesley 32-25 on the road earlier in the season and also hold home field advantage in the upcoming playoff game.
“It’s a big game,” Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I mean, they’ve knocked us out of the playoff the last two years. (My players) felt strongly about going into Dover, Delaware, earlier in the year, and they’ll feel strongly about beating them here in Belton.”
Tentatively, the game is scheduled for noon Saturday at Tiger Stadium, but the NCAA will not
officially announce the site until this afternoon. If the Crusaders’ performance against Indiana-based Franklin was any indication, they will be ready for the grudge match regardless of location.
After forcing a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Mary Hardin-Baylor’s offense immediately swarmed the Grizzlies as running back Darius Wilson capped off an eight-play, 53-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown. The Crusaders (12-0 overall) scored 45 seconds later following the first of three first-half interceptions thanks to quarterback LiDarral Bailey’s 32-yard touchdown throw to Tyler Coker.
Before the first quarter expired, Bailey tossed a touchdown to Keith Reineke and reconnected with Coker for another score and the rout was on.
“(Mary Hardin-Baylor’s offensive linemen) run like linebackers,” said Franklin head coach Mike Leonard. “Most of the teams that we play, we don’t see linemen that athletic. It is a different brand down here, right now.”
Within one minute of each other, Crusaders sophomore Kamray Reynolds and half back Elijah Hudson ran for scores early in the second quarter, extending Mary Hardin-Baylor’s lead to 42-0 with 9:26 remaining before halftime and prompting Fredenburg to pull a number of his starters.
Bailey departed having completed 12 of 15 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns, but the senior also threw his third interception of the season, marking one of only two first-half possessions failing to end in a touchdown.
“(I do not recall anything not working for us) besides me throwing an interception,” Bailey said. “I don’t like that, but that was about it.”
The Grizzlies (9-3) scored their first points on a 39-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining in the first half, but, shortly after the kick, Crusaders quarterback Jake Sims found Dustin Frye for a 70-yard touchdown and Mary Hardin-Baylor held a 49-3 advantage at halftime. Franklin posted 14 consecutive points in the third quarter, but the Crusaders replicated the feat in the fourth as Hudson and Wilson each delivered a one-yard scoring run.
Now, the Crusaders, who are unbeaten through a dozen games for a third consecutive season, look to accomplish something it has not done since 2008: Beat Wesley in the playoffs.
“The whole week of practice (prior to playing Wesley in October), you could just feel it,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor junior defensive back Broderick Crain, who recorded eight tackles, including five solo, against Franklin, said. “When we stepped out on the field, it was just a different type of atmosphere. Hopefully, we can bring that same type of intensity this week.”