By Jason Chlapek
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Going into the final drive of the contest with his team involved in a 35-35 tie with 1:30 left to play in regulation on Saturday, Mary Hardin-Baylor kicker Alan Munoz had a hunch that he might be called upon to deliver some late-game heroics.
And after a 25-yard pass connection from Josh Saenz to Pi'Dadro Davis combined with a pair of Bryson Tucker carries totaling eight yards, Munoz was in business to attempt a 33-yard field goal, which he hit down the middle of the uprights to give the Cru a 38-35 victory over American Southwest Conference rival Hardin-Simmons in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs at Tiger Field.
"After (Hardin-Simmons) tied the game on that touchdown, I knew I would probably have to kick a field goal to win the game," Munoz said. "They even tried to call timeout to freeze me, but I just stayed focused and connected with the kick."
A possession earlier, HSU (9-2) tied the game on the heels of an 11-play, 80-yard drive in which Justin Feaster completed four of six passes for 49 yards, including a 6-yarder to Jerrad Grisham for the drive-ending touchdown. Matt Fields, who missed two extra-point attempts in the Cowboys' 20-18 loss to UMHB on Oct. 4, calmly hit the game-tying extra point.
Fields kicked a dribbler on the ensuing kickoff, which Matt Hurst fielded at the UMHB 28 and returned 25 yards to the HSU 47. Two plays later, Saenz connected with Davis for a 25-yard gain on second-and-12 from the HSU 49 before Tucker's next two carries drove the Cru to the 16 and Munoz kicked his game-winner.
"I had a lot of confidence in our offense, especially the line, on that final drive," Saenz said. "Pi'Dadro ran his route and made a perfect catch, Bryson made a couple of good runs to get us closer and Alan drilled the kick through the uprights."
The previous time UMHB and HSU met, Saenz did most of the damage with his legs, not his arm, as he ran for a career-high 162 yards on 31 carries and threw just six passes on the day. But on Saturday, it was a role-reversal for Saenz as he completed nine of 14 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown and ran nine times for 38 yards and another score.
Saenz's touchdown pass went for 73 yards to Aerttrail Robinson to cap a three-play, 75-yard drive and give the Cru the lead for good, 28-21, at the 14:12 mark of the fourth quarter. That play occurred just three plays after UMHB safety Derrick Williams stuffed HSU running back Josh Stephens for no gain on fourth-and-one from the UMHB 25.
Williams struck again just four plays following the Saenz-to-Robinson touchdown, stepping in front of a Feaster pass intended for Mychal Carillo to record the only interception of the contest, which he returned to the HSU 27.
On the ensuing play, Saenz pitched to Tucker, who rolled out to the left before throwing a pass downfield to Ervin Johnson, who out-leaped his defender for the catch in the end zone to give UMHB a 35-21 cushion at the 12:09 mark of the fourth quarter.
Déj? vu started to kick in following the Tucker-to-Johnson touchdown, however, as HSU started its comeback attempt on the ensuing drive. The Cru led 20-6 in the Oct. 4 meeting before the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns to cut the lead to two, 20-18.
This time proved to be no different as HSU drove 57 yards in five plays on the drive following the Tucker-to-Johnson score as Carrillo gained 32 yards on a reverse to the UMHB 30 before Feaster hit Justice Baker for a 19-yard score four plays later to convert a fourth-and-nine situation for the Cowboys.
Fields' extra point trimmed the lead to seven, 35-28, with 9:45 left to play. Fields hit all five of his extra point attempts on Saturday.
The Cru drove to their own 40 on the ensuing drive in an attempt to run out the clock, but was forced to punt from there to give HSU a chance to tie the game with 5:41 left in the contest.
Early on, it looked as if the tide was going to turn for the Cowboys as they forced UMHB to punt on the opening drive of the contest. HSU took over at its own 10, and drove that distance in 15 plays with Feaster completing six of seven passes for 69 yards, including a four-yard score to Baker to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead at the 5:32 mark of the first quarter.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Tucker fielded Fields' kickoff at the UMHB 9 before finding a crease down the left sideline, where he ran 91 yards for a score. The first of Munoz's five extra points tied the game with 5:20 left in the first quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Cru took over at their own 38 and drove 62 yards in 10 plays by keeping the ball on the ground. The key play on the drive was when UMHB punter James Crawford was roughed on a punt which gave the Cru new life at the HSU 38.
From there, Tucker had carries of 13, 8 and 12 to get his team to the HSU 3 as the first-quarter clock ran out. Tommy Vadell ran for 2 yards on the first play of the second quarter before bulling his way into the end zone to give UMHB a 14-7 lead.
Five plays later, Feaster guided the Cowboys downfield by completing all four of his passes for 77 yards with the drive-capping play being a 30-yard touchdown pass to Carrillo. The Cru answered on the ensuing drive as Saenz hit Marcos Garcia for 21 yards before scoring from six yards out five plays later to put his team back on top, 21-14.
Stephens led HSU on its next drive by running four times for 51 yards, including a 40-yard gain to the UMHB 36 before Feaster scored form 15 yards out to tie the game, 21-21, with 3:41 left before halftime.
"We are thrilled not only that we won the game, but also with the way we won," said UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg. "The way we won shows a lot of character on our kids' parts."
The win increases UMHB's winning streak against HSU to seven games, and gives the senior class a 6-0 record against the Cowboys.
"It feels great to be undefeated against Hardin-Simmons!" Williams exclaimed. "I hope that's one of the things people remember about us is how we beat those guys every time we took the field against them."