December 18, 2004

Linfield win opens the door

More news about: Linfield | Mary Hardin-Baylor

Linfield can celebrate its 2004 title, but so can many others in Division III, who now can see hope for the future.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com

By Keith McMillan
D3sports.com

SALEM, Va. – When Linfield's Kelley Bertrand wrapped up Mary Hardin-Baylor's Josh Welch in the backfield with 16 seconds left on Saturday, the Wildcats realized their national championship dreams, and gave hope to the rest of Division III's elite.

Frustrated since 2000's "Miracle in the Mud" loss at the hands of Central, when the Dutch advanced to the national quarterfinals on an improbable overtime blocked field goal-turned-touchdown, the Wildcats finally won it all.

By doing so, and beating a perfectly game opponent who had also been frustrated in the playoffs prior to this year, Linfield provided a model for Division III teams who have been able to get into the playoffs but not put together a championship run.

And with the field growing to 32 teams next year, opening the door for four more teams who don't win their conference championship, the majority of the teams in the division can open the season legitimately believing they have a path to the title.

Mary Hardin-Baylor certainly did its share along those lines, shattering Mount Union's mystique with a 17-point fourth quarter and a 38-35 win in Alliance. Linfield beat Rowan 52-0 on the same day, as the two teams with the greatest recent Stagg Bowl traditions fell in the national semifinals.

Saturday's Stagg Bowl was an indication for both Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor that starting on the right track and sticking to the program eventually pays off.

"We learned so much from our previous (playoff) experiences," said Linfield coach Jay Locey. "The fruition of this is really the accumulation of several years of people stepping it up."

Mary Hardin-Baylor's rise is phenomenal considering the university's football program is just seven years old.

"I hope we established a resolve to move this program forward," said coach Pete Fredenburg, who acknowledged that might be little consolation to seniors who were a touchdown away from winning the national championship.

"I think it all started my freshman year," senior middle linebacker Bret Page said. "That was the initial senior class. The seniors of this year have been able to take the ball and run with it."

The 13-2 Crusaders did that rather literally, leading the nation in rushing in 2004. They were one of three Pool C teams to make the playoff, and went on the road to beat four of the nation's top seven teams (Trinity, Hardin-Simmons, Washington and Jefferson and Mount Union) on the road to the Stagg Bowl.

Linfield, meanwhile, made it two national titles for the Northwest Conference since its teams came over from the NAIA seven years ago.

"We're still kind of out there," said Locey, referring to the geographic isolation that both of this year's finalists experience. "But it does give the conference credibility. It really is good football."

Since Pacific Lutheran won here in 1999, that hasn't been in doubt.

After two seasons in which Division III giant Mount Union has been beaten, the path to the Stagg Bowl doesn't seem quite as roadblocked.

What Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor did to get here today should give hope to every Division III team in the Top 25, and even some who might not always be the top team in their conferences, a reason to believe that someday soon, it could be them hoisting the Walnut and Bronze.

Some things never change

Even with the Purple Raiders not in town, both teams were all class after the dramatic Stagg Bowl finish.

In the postgame milling around behind the North end zone locker room, Fredenburg approached Locey and congratulated him. The coaches exchanged genuine compliments for each other's defenses.

While the defensive play against the nation's top two offenses was certainly part of the unique story in the 28-21 game, there were some other things usually seen in every Stagg Bowl in Salem.

The experience shared by the teams and traveling fans, win or lose, is often a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Brett Elliott, who transferred from Division I-A Utah, said he expected to compete for a national championship at Linfield, but how enjoyable the experience was caught him off guard.

"I didn't know I'd develop the friendships and bonds that I did," the All-American quarterback said.

Locey said he consulted with Pacific Lutheran and St. John's coaches asking how to approach the weekend in Salem.

"We decided to be loose and let the kids enjoy themselves," he said.

But they'd been doing that all season. So much, in fact, that Locey said the players seemed to want the season's last practice not to end.

"I don't think our guys wanted to leave the field," he said, noting what must be a sure departure from their attitude toward practice in summer two-a-days.

Linfield players, some of whom already wore 2004 national champion hats and T-shirts, hung around by the bus and took in what they said was a partially surreal experience.

With so much work and focus put into winning a national championship, it's hard for the winners to digest it being all over. But at some point, players from both teams will get a chance to reflect on just how enjoyable the whole time in Salem is.

One last thing that never changes: the Division III experience as a whole.

Just minutes after the game, Linfield players had walked up into the stands at Salem Stadium to give hugs to family members who had made the cross-country trip from Oregon.

These players, most of whom are good students who stay out of trouble, will return to the classroom in January to resume preparations for the rest of their lives. Seniors from both teams likely have played their final football game, but are all the more enriched from the rare but exceptional experience the Division III playoffs provide.

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
TBA
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
TBA
Endicott at Framingham State
TBA
Kean at Christopher Newport
TBA
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
TBA
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
TBA
Marietta at Denison
TBA
McDaniel at Catholic
TBA
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
TBA
Sewanee at Kenyon
TBA
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Live Stats
1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Live Stats
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Live Stats
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
6:00 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Recap Photos