BELTON — The Rowan Profs came from New Jersey to Texas having allowed 45 total points in their previous five games. Rowan’s defense permitted a mere 30 rushing yards and 113 overall in controlling Endicott (N.Y.) 24-0 to begin the NCAA Division III playoffs.
However, nothing the Profs had seen or done before sufficiently prepared them for the Mary Hardin-Baylor offensive machine they ran into in Saturday afternoon’s second-round duel at Crusader Stadium.
Second-ranked UMHB overwhelmed Rowan’s usually stubborn defense in a 525-yard outburst, with versatile quarterback Zach Anderson throwing three touchdown passes and running for 116 yards to complement Elijah Hudson’s 136 rushing yards and a score as the Crusaders cruised to a 59-8 victory.
“They’re a big bunch and they had a lot of size on us,” first-year starter Anderson said of Rowan. “But we came out and we weren’t scared. We hit them with speed. Up front we handled them really well and did a great job. And our backs, they hit the hole and got out of there.”
In last week’s playoff opener against Redlands (Calif.), the UMHB offense was hindered by cold, wet, windy conditions in a 35-7 win. The Crusaders still managed 304 rushing yards with four touchdowns, but Anderson was limited to 7-of-12 passing for 69 yards and no scores.
Playing in overcast but mild and dry weather against No. 24 Rowan (9-3), UMHB’s attack operated with stunning efficiency: 337 rushing yards, 188 passing yards, 7.7 yards per snap, zero turnovers.
“They ran the ball really well, which we knew they did a great job of,” said Rowan coach Jay Accorsi, whose defense allowed 221 yards more than its average of 304. “The quarterback did a great job pulling (the ball) on the zone reads and they were able to throw the ball, so they had us on our heels. It was just too much. They’re really balanced.”
Rugged senior Hudson’s 7-yard touchdown run put the Crusaders (12-0) ahead 7-6 with 3:28 remaining in the opening quarter, then Anderson demonstrated his varied passing skills in throwing for three touchdowns before halftime.
From Rowan’s 41-yard line late in the first quarter, Anderson aired it out down the middle to Wykeyhe Walker, who beat his defender to make the catch near the 10 en route to the touchdown.
Anderson’s passing and running helped UMHB reach the Profs’ 13 four minutes into the second quarter before he deftly flicked a shovel pass to Michael Carpenter, who carved through the defense for the first of his two touchdowns.
Safety Cody Jones’ 51-yard interception return gave the Crusader offense another opportunity 36 seconds before halftime. Anderson raced off right tackle for 42 yards to the 7, then on second-and-goal at the 6 he dodged a pass rusher and threw to open Keith Reineke in the back-right part of the end zone for his third TD and a commanding 35-6 advantage.
“Our O-line pushed them back pretty good. We were just hitting the hole fast, getting downfield, getting blocks downfield from receivers,” said Anderson, a 6-2, 185-pound sophomore from Odem who pushed his passing totals to 1,814 yards and 21 touchdowns along with 743 rushing yards and 11 scores.
“We came into the game saying ‘populate the ball’ defensively and offensively. We did that well and it paid off for us.”
Anderson, who passed for 168 yards on 12-of-18 accuracy, and the Crusaders certainly liked the nicer weather as they earned a national quarterfinal date with 10-2 St. John Fisher (N.Y.) next Saturday.
Said Anderson: “It was definitely more enjoyable out there on the sideline.”
On UMHB’s, anyway.