Belton, Texas – The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team won the fourth quarter and that ended up being the difference as the Cru held on for a 31-21 victory over East Texas Baptist University in the regular season finale for both team Saturday in Belton. UMHB closes out the regular season at 10-0 overall and wins its 15th American Southwest Conference title by finishing 9-0 in league play. The Tigers finish the season 7-3 overall and 6-3 in the ASC with the loss.
After forcing a three-and-out on the game's opening possession, UMHB needed just three plays to put points on the board. Carl Robinson III hit T.J. Josey with a 44-yard touchdown strike to make it 7-0 Cru just 3:40 into the game. ETBU intercepted a pass on the next UMHB possession and Brian Baca hit Richard Johnson with a 42-yard touchdown pass to even it at 7-7 with 9:02 remaining in the first quarter. Bryce Wilkerson gave the Cru the lead back with a 40-yard punt return for a score 4:02 later to make it 14-7 UMHB. Austin Morriel capped a 14-play, 80-yard Tiger drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 13:22 left in the first half, but the Cru partially blocked the extra point to keep it a 14-13 UMHB lead. ETBU had a chance to take the lead on the final play of the first half, but Jordan Millar blocked Ryan Travis' field goal to keep it 14-13 Cru at halftime. Wilkerson pulled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Jones to extend the UMHB lead to 21-13 with 9:41 left in the third period. Day'Lonzo Freeman's two-yard touchdown run cut it to 21-19 and Baca somehow avoided a sack to loft the ball to Freeman for a two-point conversion to tie it at 21-21 with 6:08 to play in the third. It would stay that way into the fourth quarter. A short Tiger punt gave UMHB great field position and Markeith Miller cashed it in with a ten-yard scoring run to give the Cru a 28-21 edge. The UMHB defense stuffed ETBU and fourth-and-one on the next possession, leading to a John Mowery 29-yard field goal with 3:45 remaining to make it a two-score game. Ajay Fanene came up with a fourth-down quarterback sack on the final ETBU possession and the Cru ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
UMHB was held to 306 yards of total offense in the game and the Cru threw two interceptions. ETBU was limited to 343 yards of total offense and a season-low 21 points after entering the game averaging 52.8 points and 566 yards of total offense per game going into the contest. The Tigers turned the ball over just once but allowed six quarterback sacks and had two kicks blocked. UMHB committed nine costly penalties for 98 yards in the game.
Miller ran for 144 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Jones was 7-11 passing for 68 yards and a score in relief of Robinson. Robinson hit 8-13 for 83 yards and a TD, but was picked off twice. Wilkerson caught five passes for 45 yards and a score. He also broke the UMHB career record with his fifth punt return for a touchdown and tied Jessie Ramos' (Hardin-Simmons) ASC record of nine combined kick returns for touchdown in a career. Tevin Jones broke the UMHB single-game record with 19 total tackles to lead the Cru defense and Justis Kelly added nine stops.
Baca was 27-33 passing for ETBU for 267 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 33 yards on 27 carries, but lost 68 rushing yards on six sacks, or he would have gone over the century mark. Johnson caught five passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. Caleb Taylor led the Tiger defense with nine tackles and Ty Parsons chipped in eight.
The Cru stretched its winning streak to 25 consecutive victories with the win and likely clinched the overall #1 seed in the 2017 NCAA Division III National Championships in the process. The 32-team postseason field will be announced via webcast at ncaa.com at 4:30 PM on Sunday. Information on UMHB's First Round opponent, game site and ticket information will be posted on the Cru's Athletic Department website at www.cruathletics.com as soon as possible following the announcement of the field.