BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor beat Louisiana College in lopsided fashion earlier in the season. The experience would seemingly alleviate some pressure as the No. 2 Crusaders head into the rematch in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
It did not.
“This game looms so much bigger,” Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “This is a conference opponent. We’ve got to make sure we beat these guys.
“We were pretty lethargic in the first half (of our 30-3 win against the Wildcats), and they were moving it up and down the field. We’ve got great respect for Louisiana College and the athletes that they have. We know we are in for a dogfight, but they’ve got to know they are in for one, too.”
In mid October, then-No. 23 Louisiana College (8-2 overall) held a 3-0 lead with less than a second remaining in the first half and was on the verge of increasing their advantage with a field goal, but Crusaders defensive end Korey Steward blocked the attempt and linebacker Javicz Jones returned the ball 95 yards for a touchdown, sparking his team to a 27-point victory.
While Fredenburg was originally turned off by the opening-round matchup of American Southwest Conference teams, having some time to sleep on the situation opened the coach’s eyes to the benefits.
“This morning, I wake up and think, ‘Man, this is really going to be a blessing for us,’” Fredenburg said at his weekly Monday morning news conference. “It just puts so much more emphasis on making sure we do everything perfect because we’ve played them, we know what they are capable of, they know us, and we’ve got to do a great job of putting together a plan.
“After you think about it for a bit, what could be better for us?”
Hosting the game certainly helps the Crusaders’ chances. Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-0) is opening the postseason at home for the sixth time in 11 trips and is 11-3 all-time in home playoff games. Additionally, the Crusaders have never lost to the Wildcats, winning all 12 encounters, and this marks Louisiana College’s first trip to the postseason in school history.
Should the Crusaders advance, there is no guarantee they would host the second-round game against the winner between Adrian and Franklin. But Fredenburg admitted that is not the only unknown surrounding a potential encounter with one of the schools, confessing he knows very little about either program.
“It’s totally unfamiliar territory,” Fredenburg said. “I know some of the guys coaching, but it’s all new.”
The path would be more recognizable in the next round, however, as a possible quarterfinal game against Wesley College could materialize, barring any upsets. The Wolverines have eliminated the Crusaders from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and both games occurred in the quarterfinals.
Mary Hardin-Baylor earned a measure of revenge earlier this season, though, traveling to Delaware and defeating the Wolverines 32-25, but the Crusaders have not beat Wesley College in the playoffs since 2008.
Although the possibility exists the two top-five programs could run into each other, Fredenburg knows he can’t afford to look too far ahead, but the coach cannot help himself sometimes.
“Sure (we think about what lies ahead), but this is the hand that has been dealt to us,” Fredenburg said, “and we’ve got to play it.”