BELTON Ahead of Mary Hardin-Baylor's final regular season home game on Saturday, the NCAA will release its Division III regional rankings, likely on Wednesday.
The fourth-ranked Cru (8-0, 6-0 American Southwest Conference), coming off a dominating 57-6 win at Howard Payne on Saturday in a game that saw the starters play less than a half, can clinch at least a share of the ASC title and the conference's automatic bid in the Division III postseason with a win over Sul Ross State at Belton's Tiger Field on Saturday. "We would be surprised if we're not at the top (of the South region)," UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday in anticipation of the rankings release.
Having won or shared eight of the last nine conference championships and made the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons, the Cru plan on playing after the regular season and started putting together their 2011 postseason résumé together on Saturday.
Mary Hardin-Baylor had a 19-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, scoring two offensive touchdowns in three plays and its ninth non-offensive touchdown this season in between. The Cru, which integrated the I formation into its pistol offense two weeks ago against Southern Oregon, added a reverse and jet sweep Saturday, giving their first-round opponents a lot to prepare for.
"Studying and visiting with coaches that have taken their teams to the national championship, we do that," Fredenburg said. "We spend time with them, just (picking up) different aspects of preparing and getting into the playoffs and then how you move your offense and defense."
Javicz Jones returned a fumbled snap 25 yards for a 12-0 lead on Howard Payne early in the first quarter, giving the Cru their ninth non-offensive touchdown this season.
The Cru have returned four fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt for touchdowns this season; Geoff Myles, Elijah Hudson and Tariekus Ellis each have either a kickoff or punt return for a score as well.
"There's more opportunities to score on defense than there is on offense, when you break it down," Fredenburg said. "Guys that really run to the ball, like Javicz Jones, who had a touchdown, they're always going to be close to the football. If that thing comes loose, he's going to have a chance to take it, blocking kicks and interceptions and all those things. We think that being an aggressive, attacking defense is our style that we love to play."
After Chad Peevey's 25-yard field goal gave the Cru a 29-0 lead with 11:31 left in the second quarter, Fredenburg had seen enough of his offensive starters. They had ran just 20 plays and quarterback LiDarral Bailey had taken a nasty shot, but they had done enough to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines.
"You walk such a fine line because the thing that they have to do is they have to get into a game-type environment or you lose a little bit of your momentum that's moving," Fredenburg said. "It's critical that we play at a high level and we get those guys to execute and be crisp and then get them off the field in that kind of situation."
The backups hardly took a step back. Mary Hardin-Baylor rolled up 440 yards of offense. It's defense held the Yellow Jackets to 120 yards, including just 20 on the ground as 13 players combined for 17 tackles for loss.
While Mary Hardin-Baylor and Louisiana College confirmed their stakes on the conference's top two spots, Sul Ross State (2-6, 1-5 ASC) made a little noise in the bottom of the standings.
The Lobos upset Mississippi College 49-42 in overtime on Saturday to earn their first conference win this season and snap a five-game losing streak. Running back Dominique Carson ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns for the Lobos, earning the ASC Offensive Player of the Week award.
"They've got a quarterback that can throw it, they've got a little running back that is very dangerous, they've got two or three receivers that are extremely dangerous. Defensely, they've got two or three really good players," Fredenburg said. "You get into a ballgame, homecoming in Alpine and Mississippi College after a long trip, you get them going, they've got a chance. We understand that. How Howard Payne beat them, I don't know because they're pretty talented."