BELTON — A 28-game winning streak and its reign as national champion. That’s what No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor will put on the line today when it rolls the dice against No. 11 Brockport for a berth in the 45th annual Stagg Bowl and a chance at the NCAA Division III title.
At this point in the season, all the chips are on the table.
“We’re poised at the place where we really want to be. Now we’ve got finish the deal — get to (the Stagg Bowl) and then go win the ballgame there,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
UMHB (13-0) and Brockport (13-0) square off at 2:30 this afternoon at Crusader Stadium in a national semifinal that matches the defending national champion against a first-time fourth-round qualifier.
It was a little more than 11 months ago that the Crusaders walked off the field in Salem, Va., with their first title, and not much has changed. They’re still dangerous on special teams and feature a defensive unit that gives up fewer points than anyone in the country (7.5 per game) and ranks No. 3 nationally in total defense (219.5 yards per game).
Today, they’ll have to contain a Golden Eagles team out of New York that’s driven by a productive, play-making quarterback.
Joe Germinerio — a 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore — has thrown for 3,289 yards and 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions to go with 465 yards rushing and 13 scores, all while steering Brockport on its deepest playoff run in program history.
“(Germinerio) is the utmost competitive player,” Golden Eagles coach Jason Mangone said. “He wants to be the guy and he understands everything that we want to do. He’s a tremendous athlete with an outstanding arm.”
Germinerio has four receivers with at least 600 yards receiving to choose from, including sophomore DaQuan Hubbard, who has made 44 catches for 1,064 yards and 11 touchdowns. Also at his disposal is running back Justin Morrison, who needs only 35 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark.
As is its custom, UMHB will try to make Brockport one-dimensional and then unleash its front four that’s spearheaded by end Ajay Fanene’s 12½ sacks.
“Their quarterback is really dynamic. He’s a good player and he’s the one that makes it all run well,” Fredenburg said. “Our guys like to rush the passer on third down, and we have some guys who can really do that. We’re going to turn them loose.”
The Crusaders offense that features speedy receivers and punishing running back Markeith Miller will again be directed by freshman quarterback Carl Robinson III, who will make his sixth start.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Golden Eagles have a defense that ranks No. 2 against the run but 122nd against the pass and yields 13.4 points per game.
“Both of our lines have decent size and are very physical. We pride ourselves on that,” Mangone said. “We’re going to be able to move around on defense.”
Today’s winner advances to face No. 2 Mount Union (13-0) or No. 3 Wisconsin-Oshkosh (12-0) — a 10-7 loser to UMHB in last year’s title game — in Stagg Bowl XLV next Friday night in Salem.
“For us to have success, we have to play better than good football,” Mangone said.
- NCAA DIVISION III SEMIFINALS: No. 11 Brockport at No. 1 UMHB, 2:30 p.m. (FM 101.7)