BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor heads into its biggest game of the season with hopes of stretching it into the biggest three weeks in program history. To do so, it would help if the Crusaders were at full strength.

As of right now, that may or may not be the case.

UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg was cautiously optimistic Monday about the chances of defensive backs Cody Jones, Jordan Townes and Eric Allen playing Saturday, when the second-ranked Crusaders host No. 5 Wesley (Del.) in a NCAA Division III quarterfinal.

Jones (knee), the junior starting free safety, and Townes (foot) — his freshman backup — were injured in last Saturday’s second-round rout of Franklin (Ind.). Allen (knee), a sophomore and the team’s primary nickelback, didn’t play last week after getting hurt in the closing seconds of the Crusaders’ first-round win.

“We don’t know about Cody yet. He gets an MRI this evening,” Fredenburg said Monday during his weekly news conference. “He was walking fine (Sunday). He didn’t run, but he lifted weights and rode on the bike. His status is up in the air right now.

“Jordan was X-rayed this morning and it’s not broken, so we’re hopeful. And Eric ran (Sunday) for the first time since he was hurt.”

If Jones and Townes are unavailable, senior Cru-back Mike Maldonado would likely draw the start at free safety, with junior Jordan Mullinnix or Allen — if he’s healthy — filling the vacated spot at Cru-back.

Forged by fire

It will be the second meeting of the season between the Crusaders (12-0) and Wolverines (10-1), whose only loss was 32-25 to UMHB on Sept. 15 in Dover, Del.

Fredenburg believes that early test is one reason his team is playing well right now.

“In my opinion, it always helps to play really good opponents,” he said. “That game would even have helped us in a loss.”

The coach said he speaks from experience because he’s seen it happen.

“I’ll always remember that we’re on the bus after just losing to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the regular season one year,” he recalled. “They had an old boy named Ryan Kleppe (an All-American defensive tackle) that just wore out Josh Littlejohn. Josh was sitting right behind me on the bus and said, ‘Coach, it’s great playing a team like that. I got better during the game.’ And I said, ‘You had to because you were fixing to be over there with me.’

“He was right, though. Games like that make you better, and Kleppe really did help make Littlejohn a better football player.”

Zebras from afar

The officiating crew for last week’s second-round game came to Belton from Chicago, and the quarterfinal group will travel in from Ohio.

That couldn’t have been the case a couple of years back, and Fredenburg welcomes the change.

“It used to be that officials couldn’t travel more than 500 miles,” he said. “You had to select a regionally pooled crew, but you can’t use a same official twice. So like at Wesley two years ago, that was their third home playoff game so we had a third-string officiating crew.

“Now the officials can travel farther, and it makes it much better.”

Tickets on sale Wednesday

Tickets for Saturday’s noon game at Tiger Field will be sold at the Mayborn Campus Center ticket windows. They will be available to season ticket holders from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7:30 a.m. to noon Thursday. The general public can purchase tickets from noon to 5:30 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.

Reserved-seat tickets are $8, and general admission tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students (as young as 3) and seniors (60 and up).

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