BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor knows the opponent, the time and the site of its NCAA Division III first-round playoff game. As for who will take the snaps for the top-ranked Crusaders when they host Chapman at noon Saturday, that part is not so clear.
The 10-game regular season did little to settle the quarterback situation for UMHB (10-0), which has started three players at the position this season and doesn’t yet know who will start the playoff opener.
“I think it’s going to be a game-time decision after a week of preparation,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday.
Sophomore Kyle Jones replaced T.J. Josey as the starter in Week 4 and started five games before giving way to freshman Carl Robinson III for two games.
Then came Robinson’s struggles Saturday against East Texas Baptist in the regular-season finale, a game in which he was pulled in favor of Jones only two plays into the third quarter.
“There’s no question that Carl brings to the table some ability that Carl doesn’t have, but Kyle brings to the table some things that Carl doesn’t have,” Fredenburg said. “If we could put them together, it would be perfect.”
Jones is 79-of-122 for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions but isn’t much of a runner, as his 33 rushing attempts for minus-25 yards will indicate.
Robinson is 44-of-57 for 596 yards and six TDs with two interceptions, and he has 109 yards rushing and three scores. However, both of his interceptions came against ETBU on throws into double-coverage — one week after he got away with making a couple of similarly risky throws against Louisiana College. Jones replaced him Saturday after he was picked off for the second time.
“I just didn’t think Carl was playing well or playing with any confidence. We felt like we needed to make a switch,” Fredenburg said. “It’s difficult because when you take a youngster out after he does something bad, it doesn’t help his confidence any. But at that point in time, we were just concerned with winning the ballgame.”
Fredenburg said after the ETBU game and again on Monday that the coaching staff will evaluate the situation during practice this week. In all likelihood, UMHB won’t let the identity of Saturday’s starter be known until kickoff.
“My intent is not to try to surprise our opponent. I don’t care about that. I care about our team embracing the guy that’s going to be the offensive leader. That’s critically important to me,” Fredenburg said. “We’re at a point in time when the people who are going out on the field are the people that you absolutely trust the most to go out and do the job and represent our team in a tremendously competitive way.”
Despite the NCAA-mandated roster limitation — playoff teams can suit up only 58 players — the Crusaders will carry three quarterbacks: Jones, Robinson and junior transfer Tevin Muse.
“We might use all three if we’re not satisfied,” Fredenburg said. “I just want our quarterback to be good and run our offense.”
Who is Chapman?
Saturday’s first-round game will be the first-ever meeting between the Crusaders and Panthers (6-2), who had a nine-game regular-season schedule before Occidental canceled its season after only a few contests.
Chapman, which is in the playoffs for only the second time in program history, is a private university of 6,363 students in Orange, Calif. Among its notable alumni are former U.S. congressman David Bonior — the House majority whip from 1991-95 — and adult film actress Jelena Jensen.
UMHB will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the second consecutive year, although the Crusaders’ path back to the national title game isn’t a walk in the park.
The UMHB-Chapman winner faces either No. 6 Hardin-Simmons (9-1) or No. 8 Linfield (8-1) in the second round, and the second-round victor likely will take on No. 4 St. Thomas in a quarterfinal.
Of the four pieces of the 32-team bracket, only UMHB’s eight-team quarter features four teams ranked in the top 10.
The quarter headed by No. 5 Delaware Valley has no other top-10 teams. Third-ranked Wisconsin-Oshkosh has only No. 7 St. John’s in its portion, and No. 2 Mount Union has No. 9 Wittenberg and No. 10 Washington & Jefferson in its quarter.
UMHB junior linebacker Tevin Jones and senior receiver/kick returner Bryce Wilkerson received two of the American Southwest Conference’s weekly honors.
Jones, a Belton product, set a school single-game record with 19 tackles against ETBU. He had 2½ stops for losses, including 1½ sacks.
Wilkerson returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown, setting the school career record for punt returns for touchdowns at five. He also has four kickoff returns for TDs, and his total of nine ties the ASC career mark.