BELTON — Three days after his team’s loss in the NCAA Division III national championship game, Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg talked Monday about his thoughts on the defeat, recruiting and the title game’s move next year to a new city.
“A loss in the national championship game is awful, and it consumes your thoughts every waking hour in the days afterward,” he said. “But these guys were 29-1 (over the last two seasons). Winning 14 ballgames this year was an incredible thing to do because coming off the national championship year and starting all over again, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on our guys. They handled everything so classy.”
UMHB’s bid to claim back-to-back titles fell through last Friday, when the Crusaders (14-1) had their 29-game winning streak snapped with a 12-0 loss to Mount Union (15-0) in Stagg Bowl XLV in Salem, Va.
The Purple Raiders, who earned their 13th championship, were ranked No. 1 in the final coaches poll Monday. UMHB was No. 2, followed by Wisconsin-Oshkosh, St. Thomas and Brockport — the latter two of which fell to the Crusaders in the playoffs.
The final ranking gives UMHB something to flaunt on the recruiting trail but won’t erase the disappointment of Friday’s loss, and that might be a good thing.
“I told our guys after the game to really come in contact with and remember the feeling that they had because it was an awful feeling to get beat in a game that you feel like you could have won,” Fredenburg said.
The Crusaders defense held the country’s highest-scoring offense to less than two touchdowns and allowed only 229 yards, but their offense mustered only 144 yards as they were shut out for only the second time in the program’s 20-year history.
“I challenged our staff this morning to go back and look at some of the things that hurt us in the ballgame,” Fredenburg said. “I think Mount Union did some really good things that will help us be better coaches and be a better program.
“The expectations of the people in this program are high and they’ll continue to be high. We’re very proud that our program is nationally known and the expectations that come with that are very high.”
Among the seniors that UMHB will have to replace are defensive linemen Ajay Fanene, Haston Adams, Brazos Fuller and Jordan Millar, cornerback Kris Brown, safety Reggie Wilson, offensive lineman Corbin Campitelli and receiver/kick returner Bryce Wilkerson — all of whom key pieces of the Crusaders’ consecutive appearances in the Stagg Bowl.
In order to replace those impact players, Fredenburg said he and his staff can’t be afraid to aim high when it comes to recruiting.
“It’s easy for coaches to find guys who want to be here, but you lower your standard a little bit if that’s the only guys you recruit,” he said. “It’s difficult to go recruit a kid that everyone else is recruiting because you can get your heart broken. The reality, though, is that those are the kids we need to be going after. We need to recruit the kids that some of the scholarship schools are recruiting. We’re going to get our heart broken sometimes, but we’re also going to get some guys to come here. That’s where we need to spend our time.”
Last Friday marked the 25th consecutive year that Salem hosted the Stagg Bowl, and the city spent the week leading up to the game patting itself on the back for a job well done.
The championship game will be held in Shenandoah — on the outskirts of Houston — next year and in 2019 before moving to Canton, Ohio, for 2020 and ’21.
“I think Salem worked and tried hard to be hospitable. Some of those people up there are tremendous people,” Fredenburg said. “The thing is, though, the place is awful to try to get to. It’s difficult to get in and out of that area, and the weather is always a problem.
“I think we are all better with competition, and this is certainly no exception. I think Salem will be a better host sometime in the future because it lost to Shenandoah and Canton, Ohio, for the right to host for the next few years.”