BELTON — First, Mary Hardin-Baylor received a scare.
Then, the Crusaders delivered a comeback.
For the first time all season, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor found itself trailing in the fourth quarter, losing to Hardin-Simmons 32-31 early in the fourth quarter.
But a trio of interceptions in the final eight minutes turned into 14 points, and the Crusaders rallied to keep their undefeated record intact with a 45-32 win at Tiger Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
While Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg could have done without the tense fourth quarter, he believes the experience will be beneficial for his players, who are entered the contest winning by an average of 24.7 points per game this season.
“(Since) nobody had stayed close with us, when they took the lead, it was important how we responded to that,” Fredenburg said. “Some guys might start getting a little panicked and nervous, and it was good that we just stayed with our (philosophy) and did the things necessary to be successful.
“That says a lot about the character of this football team.”
With 12:16 remaining in the game, the Cowboys produced their first lead since scoring on the game’s opening possession when quarterback Logan Turner found Jimmie Simpson for a 36-yard touchdown. Hardin-Simmons (4-3, 3-1 American Southwest Conference) attempted to push its one-point lead to three, but the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The stop proved to be just the start for an active Mary Hardin-Baylor defense.
After punting on the ensuing drive, the Crusaders (7-0, 4-0) snatched possession right back as junior defensive back Brodrick Crain intercepted a tipped pass along the sideline, triggering a quick Mary Hardin-Baylor scoring drive.
The drive culminated with quarterback LiDarral Bailey’s 42-yard touchdown pass to Jon Ross. Bailey then found halfback Elijah Hudson on the two-point conversion, giving the Crusaders a 39-32 lead with 7:43 remaining game.
The score held for over four minutes before Crusaders kicker Chad Peevey connected on a 42-yard field goal set up by linebacker Javicz Jones’ interception of a tipped pass. Less than 40 seconds later, Jones intercepted another pass, leading to the contest’s final score — a 27-yard field goal by Peevey.
“I knew it was going to come down to the end of the game,” Jones said. “Somebody had to step up, and I thank my teammates for believing in me. I was getting use to the route concepts, and I kind of knew where he was starting to look.
“Then, he was going against the wind, and I knew that was going to play a big factor. The ball just turned up in my hands.”
Although the defense helped secure the victory, the Crusaders’ offense produced its third-highest output of the season, accumulating 533 total yards. Bailey was responsible for all but 111 of them. The senior completed 13 of 21 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown, adding 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“There is just a lot of emotions,” Bailey said. “It’s homecoming weekend, and I wanted to dedicate this game to my uncle, who passed on Wednesday. It was a big dedication to him, and I didn’t want to let him down. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Early in the game, however, the Crusaders let several chances slip through their grasp.
The Crusaders found themselves trailing 7-0 after allowing Hardin-Simmons to score on the opening possession of the game, and Peevey missed a 35-yard field goal wide right.
Late in the second quarter, trailing 14-10, Hardin-Simmons was driving in Crusaders’ territory, but Jones swung momentum by recovering a fumble after jarring the ball loose on a sack. He finished the game with 14 tackles, including four solo and two for a loss.
The play set up a short field for the Crusaders, but nothing went right on the drive that sputtered in the red zone. A penalty negated a touchdown run, a sack moved the ball in the wrong direction, and a dropped pass in the end zone set up a 32-yard missed field goal by Peevey, who pulled the ball wide left, and, despite producing 109 total yards more than Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor took a slim 14-10 advantage into halftime.
“It is not something I relish, but it was something we probably needed,” Fredenburg said of the tight contest. “Our guys had to bow their necks and come out and play, and they did it to win it late.”