BELTON — Typically, Mary Hardin-Baylor can credit its high-powered offense for victories.
Against Texas Lutheran, however, a series of first-half defensive stands led to a Crusaders’ win.
No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor traditionally jumps out on its opposition early, outscoring opponents 130-41 in the first half of its first four games, but after building a 21-7 lead in the opening quarter against the Bulldogs, the offense hit a wall.
Luckily, the Crusaders’ defense shut out Texas Lutheran in the second quarter, and the offense returned to form in the second half, scoring 21 unanswered points after the break en route to a 49-31 victory.
“(The second-quarter defensive performance) was big, and we had to come up with some stops,” said Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg. “But I think if you ask our players, they would be disappointed that we didn’t do what we wanted to do in the first half.”
Crusaders quarterback LiDarral Bailey, who finished with over 300 yards of total offense, agreed.
“We know if one side of the ball goes down that we have to pick it up on the other side,” the senior said. “But we had open people (in the first half), I just have to complete the pass.”
Bailey was 11-of-20 for 105 yards in the first half, before going 4 of 6 for 113 yards and a touchdown in limited action in the second half. He also ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Prior to the Crusaders’ dominant second half, they experienced both a scoring outburst and a scoring drought in the first two quarters. Freshman running back Michael Carpenter gave the Crusaders (5-0, 2-0 American Southwest Conference) an almost immediate advantage, running for a 52-yard touchdown just 1:16 into the game before pushing the lead to 14-0 less than five minutes later on a 19-yard run.
Texas Lutheran (3-2, 1-1) chopped the lead in half with 7:51 left in the first quarter, using a four-play, 48-yard drive capped off by quarterback Brent Peavy’s 8-yard run to get on the scoreboard.
After combining for three touchdowns within the first eight minutes, the scoring briefly stalled, but Bailey revived it before the quarter’s end, running for a 29-yard score on a quarterback keep with 1:41 left in the period.
With 10:12 remaining in the third quarter, a 56-yard pass from Bailey to Geoff Myles finally initialized a scoring drive for the Crusaders as Elijah Hudson ran for a 21-yard touchdown on the following snap, giving Mary Hardin-Baylor a 28-7 lead.
The score opened the floodgates for the Crusaders, who entered the night with a margin of victory of 26 points per game, as they increased their lead to 28 points before allowing a pair of late scores.
“We started out rough,” Bailey said. “It was just little stuff we didn’t do to get the job done. I have to do a better job of coming out here, leading the team and getting us going from the get go. But, in the second half, I feel like we came out and did a better job.”
Following a Bulldogs’ three-and-out, it took Mary Hardin-Baylor just five plays to cover 57 yards as Bailey found Myles for the Crusaders’ first passing score of the game on a 14-yard completion with 6:45 left in the third quarter. Then, Crusaders defensive back and former Belton standout Brodrick Crain picked off Peavy, and the offense converted it into points as well, going 92 yards in a scoring drive spanning into the fourth quarter, and Hudson reached the end zone for a second time to give his team a 42-7 lead.
Mary Hardin-Baylor’s lead grew to 49-21 before Texas Lutheran kicker Allen Cain connected on an ACS record 59-yard field goal and the Bulldogs added a touchdown in the final 2:03 to help outscore the Crusaders 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
“It left a bad taste in our mouth just because we gave up those touchdowns at the last part,” Fredenburg said. “Our guys didn’t feel real good about that, but there were some bright spots, and we did some good things. We still have to repair some things and get better.”