BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor wants to keep on keeping on. The Crusaders have won 48 of their last 51 games and reached the national quarterfinals the last three years, a streak they don’t want to end now.
Rowan (N.J.) wants to keep the ball. With a mammoth offensive line and workhorse running back, the Profs would like nothing more than to milk the clock into their first quarterfinal appearance since 2006.
Only one team’s desire will be fulfilled when No. 2 UMHB (11-0) and No. 24 Rowan (9-2) clash at noon today in an NCAA Division III second-round playoff game at Crusader Stadium.
Such is the harsh reality of postseason football.
“All season long we’ve said that we have to make sure we get better every single week,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said. “That certainly doesn’t change in the playoffs, not if this team wants to accomplish the goals it has set.”
UMHB has shown steady improvement throughout the season. With one more win
the Crusaders will earn their fourth straight trip — and seventh in the last eight years — to the quarterfinals, where they would face No. 7 Hobart (N.Y.) or St. John Fisher (N.Y.).
To do so, they will have to get past a Rowan team that averages 294 pounds per man across its offensive line and features 195-pound sophomore running back Withler Marcelin, who has rushed for 1,397 yards in 11 games.
“We used to be known for our skill positions, and the line wasn’t as big and physical as it is now,” 12th-year Rowan coach Jay Accorsi said.
“That’s something we’ve just started to get. We had been known as a throwing team, and we’re probably not as much anymore.”
The Profs average only 129 passing yards and 306 total yards per game.
Their 21.3 points per game average is the lowest among the 16 remaining playoff teams.
Today they face a Crusaders defense that ranks No. 1 in the country against the run (59.2 yards) and is yielding only 12.7 points per outing.
Fredenburg doesn’t believe the Profs will change their style at this point in the season.
“They want to run and keep the ball away from you,” he said.
“Offensively, we need to be able to run the ball and control the tempo,” he said. “We’re not flashy, but we’re gritty.”
On the other side of the ball, UMHB averages 483 yards and 48 points per game out of its Pistol attack that features bruising senior running back Elijah Hudson and dual-threat sophomore quarterback Zach Anderson.
“We have to stop the run, and it’s not one particular person,” Accorsi said.
“It starts with trying to contain them and not give up some big plays. The quarterback is dynamic. He can throw and run, and we have to try to keep him in check.”
Rowan gives up 304 yards and 15.7 points per game with a defense that’s led by junior ends Josh Popper and Chris Alvarez, senior linebacker Dominic Caruso and sophomore linebacker Darren Dungee.
“I think in the past, the offensive side of the ball got more notoriety,” Accorsi said.
“But it’s always been about the defense for us. We’ve always built our team around a championship defense, and we put our more dynamic players on defense.”
NOTES: Both teams have injury issues with their top wide receivers. UMHB’s Marcus Wimby is doubtful after missing last week’s playoff opener with a shoulder sprain, and Accorsi said Rowan’s Ed Eisenhart will not play for the second straight week. ... The teams had two common opponents this season. UMHB knocked off Kean 34-7 and Wesley 35-7. Rowan defeated Kean 7-6 and Wesley 24-17.