BELTON — Sundays around Andersen Field House are a time for Mary Hardin-Baylor to dissect what went wrong during the previous day’s game before beginning preparation for the next contest.
Following Saturday’s 24-10 NCAA Division III quarterfinal victory over No. 4 St. Thomas, which sacked Crusaders quarterback Carl Robinson III six times and had him scrambling all afternoon, most of the talk for No. 1 UMHB revolved around protecting the passer.
“We have to do a better job protecting our quarterback and giving him opportunities to throw the ball,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday. “We threw it fast sometimes and were pretty successful with that. We have to continue to do that and, if we’re going to throw the ball down the field a little bit more, we’ll have to bring in more protection.
“Our guys want to fix what they did wrong from the last game and get ready to play a really good game Saturday. Obviously, we want to go back to the national championship.”
Defending national champion UMHB (13-0) is one win away from a return trip to the Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va., and standing in the Crusaders’ way is a semifinal matchup with No. 11 Brockport (13-0) out of New York at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Crusader Stadium.
Fredenburg said his players understand that now is not the time to feel satisfied.
“The thing we talk about all year long is that our goal is to win the national championship,” he said. “Well, if you lose a game at this time of the year, you’re out. So our guys really have to grab hold of every opportunity that they can to prepare themselves for a game like this. They have to make sure they do everything they can to help this team be successful.”
At times, that preparation involves the coaching staff reining in players during workouts. After 13 games and more than 3½ months of practice, the season starts to take its toll on an athlete’s body.
“That’s a fine line that you walk. These guys take such pride in the physicality of practice. I say that, but maybe I take great pride in it more than they do. But they really and truly believe that they need that kind of competition during practice to make us better,” Fredenburg said. “It’s a fine line you walk, though, because you don’t want to get a guy hurt in practice.”
Who is Brockport?
Brockport — part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system — has an enrollment of 7,090 students and is located in Brockport, N.Y., near Rochester. Among its notable alumni is Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy.
The Golden Eagles were champions of the Empire 8 conference this season. They are in the playoffs for the fifth time in program history and first since 2003. They have an all-time playoff record of 5-4 and will make their first semifinal appearance Saturday.
“Brockport runs the same kind of defense as St. Thomas, so that’s a bad place to start,” Fredenburg said. “They’re very well-coached and, obviously, a good football team.”
Saturday’s semifinal will be available on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN app. With so many television cameras in place, both head coaches will be allowed to challenge certain rulings.
However, Fredenburg explained that there shouldn’t be a need for either coach to challenge a call.
“When you get to this round, the officials tell us, ‘We have a team of guys up there that are reviewing any kind of questionable call,’” he said. “In other words, for a coach to challenge a call even after those guys have already reviewed it, that’s a waste of time and a lost cause.”
The early forecast calls for a high of 62 degrees in Belton. That’s quite a change from the 34 degrees and snow flurries expected in Brockport this weekend.
The weather shouldn’t be warm enough to take its toll on the Golden Eagles, though. In fact, Fredenburg can recall only a couple of instances in which the Belton heat influenced a visiting team.
“Having nice weather is great for everybody involved,” Fredenburg said. “The only time I can really remember our weather being an asset was when Linfield came here last year in the regular season in September. They really felt it.
“Now that I think about it, though, (former Willamette coach Mark Speckman) said he got off the plane here and thought he stepped into hell.”
Around the bracket
Only four teams remain in the chase for the national title. Saturday’s other semifinal has No. 2 Mount Union (13-0) visiting No. 3 Wisconsin-Oshkosh (12-0), which suffered a 10-7 loss to UMHB in last year’s championship game.
The semifinal winners will clash in Stagg Bowl XLV on Dec. 15 at Salem Stadium.