|Zach Anderson has started the
majority of the season after getting his first varsity start vs.
Photo by Andrew Zavoina, d3photography.com
By Joe Sager
A big question mark became an exclamation point for the Mary Hardin-Baylor football team.
Entering the season, the Cru faced the daunting task of finding a new quarterback after LiDarral Bailey wrapped up his career as the program's most prolific passer, the D3football.com South Region Offensive Player of the Year and a second team All-American.
His quarterback resume is a long one. He had a 34-4 record (with just one regular-season loss) and finished as UMHB's all-time leading passer. He set nearly every program passing record. His impact was felt outside the record books, too.
"LiDarral was a great leader and competitor," Cru coach Pete Fredenburg said. "He was very well-respected and thought of and did a great job leading the offense."
So, how do you replace a guy like that? The Cru (13-0) used a handful of quarterbacks – and not by choice, at first. Jake Sims, Brian Gallagher and Zach Anderson all have seen time under center. However, Anderson, a sophomore, seized the top spot in the team's third game and excelled.
"Zach started the year as the third-team guy and the other two got hurt. He stepped in and did a great job leading the offense and making plays and doing things only really good athletes can do," Fredenburg said. "He has helped us achieve the success we have achieved so far."
Anderson ran with the opportunity – literally. He enters Saturday's NCAA Division III national semifinal against UW-Whitewater (13-0) with a chance of joining the 1,000/2,000 club for rushing and passing yardage on the year. He has rushed for 779 yards and his 1,972 passing yards rank second in Cru single-season history.
"Throughout the year, I have been working on getting more comfortable in the pocket and trusting my line more," Anderson said. "If a running lane is there, I will take it, hopefully, if it is a smart decision. I've been trying to become more of a threat in the pocket over the last few games."
Mary Hardin-Baylor's balanced attack helps ease Anderson's transition. At 49.0 points per game, the Cru has Division-III's second-highest scoring offense. Mount Union (49.6 ppg) is first.
"I came in during the second game of the season. Every game I have been in, I feel we have steadily improved. I don't feel like I have too much of a burden. We have so many guys who can score," Anderson said. "The coaches do a really good job drawing up game plans and, once we are in the game, giving us plays. We try to be methodical. Our running back, Elijah Hudson, can hit a long run at any time. The same goes with any of our receivers. It's definitely fun being in that type of offense."
Anderson feels his game has improved dramatically since he took over under center.
"I attribute a lot to the coaches who have worked with me and had a lot of patience with me in practice and games," he said. "I feel like I have made quite a bit of improvement this year. I am just trying to get better every week with it."
And, he's had some encouraging words from the man he replaced – Bailey.
"Coming into college, I knew of him and the things he had done already. When I got here, he gave me a lot of helpful words," Anderson said. "He texts me once a week or every couple weeks to give me words of wisdom. While he was here, he was a help. Now, hearing his advice really helps me out a lot, too."
The Cru advanced to last year's semifinals and led big at Mount Union before dropping a 48-35 decision as the Purple Raiders scored two TDs in the closing seconds. Anderson, who watched that game on TV, is eager for this challenge.
"Last year, I played in the junior varsity program. I felt the hurt of the loss, but maybe not as much as some of the guys who played in the game. We have been here last year and know what it's like to be at this stage and what it's like to lose," he said. "That's the hardest part. That feeling is not something you can whisk away. The guys have been feeling it all year. I think that'll help us. We're so close. We're just ready to reach to the next stage. You grow up your whole life looking to play deep into December. To have this opportunity is surreal."
|Brian Gallagher got a handful
of snaps in Saturday's quarterfinal win and sparked a
fourth-quarter surge on offense.
Photo by Joe Fusco, d3photography.com
Anderson won't have to do it all himself, either. Fredenburg said Gallagher will see some snaps as well. The senior has played throughout the year and was inserted into the lineup late in last week's 45-23 triumph over St. John Fisher. The Cardinals intercepted Anderson with 8:42 to play and scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit to 31-23. Gallagher replaced Anderson and earned the save. He engineered two scoring drives in the game's final minutes, the second came after a St. John Fisher fumble.
"Brian is qualified and very experienced. Putting him in against St. John Fisher (late in the game and pinned near the goal line), showed we have confidence and he responded very well. I think he is a really gifted quarterback," Fredenburg said. "He is talented and well-respected and has some leadership qualities. He does some stuff better than Zach and Zach does some stuff better than he does. We will utilize both and see if they can be productive. This defense we're facing is really awesome."
In addition, a third quarterback – Marcus Wimby – could take some snaps as well in the team's wildcat formation.
"We are blessed to have a lot of skilled guys. It kind of opens up the offense and allows us to run as well as pass," Fredenburg said. "Hopefully, it puts some pressure on defenses and creates some issues for them."
Nevertheless, the team is looking forward to playing at Crusader Stadium, which opened this year, once again.
"That's huge for us. We have a great fan base here. Just the comfort factor alone is huge," Anderson said. "I know they have great fans, too, so it's huge for us to be at home. Our motto has been: 'We don't lose at home.' We look to keep that up this Saturday."