MARSHALL — The competitive matchup some people envisioned never materialized, turning instead into a chippy, penalty-laden affair. Still though, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor did enough things well enough to feel good moving forward.
And either way, ready or not, here come the playoffs.
Markeith Miller bulled his way to 173 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and the UMHB defense grounded East Texas Baptist’s previously high-flying offense as the Crusaders chalked up a 50-15 victory Saturday to put the final tally on their third consecutive undefeated regular season.
On a chilly afternoon at Ornelas Stadium, UMHB (10-0, 9-0 American Southwest Conference) won its 32nd straight regular-season game and can finally focus on the NCAA Division III playoffs and its quest for a third consecutive trip to the national championship game.
“We needed some kind of competition to get ready for the playoffs,” said Crusaders linebacker De Jackson, who had a team-high 11 tackles. “I think this game will help us in the long run.”
ETBU (6-4, 6-3) managed to score more points against UMHB than any other team this season, but the Tigers were never a threat to win after the opening minutes. Miller had scoring runs of 3 and 4 yards to make it 14-0 at the 7:27 mark of the first quarter and Aaron Sims took a punt back 40 yards for a touchdown 3 minutes later to put the Crusaders firmly in control.
Miller scored again from 9 yards out in the final minutes before halftime, capping a 10-play, 90-yard drive and giving him 57 rushing touchdowns for his career — tying the ASC record set by former UMHB running back Quincy Daniels.
“That means a lot to me,” Miller said. “That means all the work, dedication, training I do, the bonding I do with the O-linemen, to get a record like that makes it awesome.”
The Crusaders, who led 31-0 at halftime, put together another lengthy march to open the third quarter, moving 76 yards in 16 plays and chewing 7:58 off the clock before Anthony Avila kicked the second of his three field goals. UMHB finished with 390 yards — 241 on the ground — and showed it can hold together long drives to complement its quick-strike scores.
“In spite of how I feel right now — which I don’t feel very good because I think we were sloppy at times — I think we did some things really well,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said. “We had some extended drives, and that’s what I really like and that’s what we need.”
DeNerian Thomas’ 45-yard pass to T.J. Josey, and a 7-yard run by Thomas accounted for UMHB’s other points.
ETBU got a 10-yard TD run from quarterback Brian Baca and a 2-yard scoring plunge from Jeremiah Robertson, but the Tigers complied only 284 yards – more than 250 below their average – in game in which the teams combined for 23 penalties totaling 257 yards. UMHB defensive end Elijah Cross forced and recovered a fumble, linebacker Santos Villarreal had an interception, and safety Jefferson Fritz picked off two passes to tie the program single-season record of eight.
“It was just a bunch of competitive people. It was their last game, and we’re trying to move on and do bigger and better things,” Miller said of the post-whistle skirmishes and numerous fouls.
NOTES: The NCAA will release the 32-team playoff bracket at 4:30 p.m. today. ... UMHB backup quarterback Luke Poorman injured his left foot in the second half and was on crutches following the game. “It doesn’t look good,” Fredenburg said.