By Ron Boerger
BELTON, Texas — Mary Hardin-Baylor lived by the turnover in the first round but died by it in the second round as the No. 4 Crusaders fell to No. 24 Wesley 46-36.
The home crowd was in a festive mood for Mary Hardin-Baylor's first home playoff game. The festivities continued when Freddy Rollins scored easily on the second play from scrimmage, going 71 yards to put the Crusaders up 7-0 with less than a minute off the clock.
The celebrations came to a sudden halt when Mary Hardin-Baylor quarterback Josh Welch was hit on the option by Wesley defensive lineman Bryan Robinson and fumbled. Robinson recovered on the Mary Hardin-Baylor 1. Two plays later, quarterback Chris Warrick tied the game on a 1-yard sneak.
On the second play of the next drive, Welch's pitch to Rollins was off target and Jeff Morgan recovered, this time on the UMHB 17. The Crusader defense held this time. Chris Carlton hit a 32-yard field goal to put the Wolverines on top 10-7. After forcing the Crusaders into a three-and-out, it took but one play for Chris Warrick to add yet another score. Larry Beavers took advantage of the Crusaders' single coverage all day — this time for 54 yards and a score. The Crusaders responded with their best drive of the day — a time-consuming 17-play drive culminating in a short Rollins plunge to close the gap to 17-14 on the first play of the second quarter.
From there it was nearly all downhill for the home team. Warrick hooked up with Beavers again, this time for 26 yards, to restore Wesley's 10-point advantage. The Crusaders were driving for the equalizer when Rollins fumbled at the Wesley 25. The ball sat on the turf untouched for seemingly several seconds before William Buck picked it up and streaked 75 yards for a touchdown. Shawnn Williams blocked the extra point attempt, but the Wolverines still led 30-14.
A change of quarterbacks provided a momentary spark for the Crusaders. Starting from his own 36, Andy Padron deftly guided UMHB's attack downfield. He finished off the series when he scored untouched from 15 yards out to close the gap to 10. A bad snap resulted in another missed extra point.
The Wolverines were held in check on the next two series, and UMHB seemed in good shape when they took over at midfield with under a minute remaining. Robinson forced yet another fumble on the Crusaders' first play, and on the next play Warrick found Beavers in stride for touchdown of 50 yards. Instead of trailing by 10 (or less), the Crusaders went into the locker room down by 17. The 37 points scored by Wesley in the first half were already more than the Crusaders had given up in an entire game all season.
The Crusader defense would have to make some plays to get the team back into the game. Josh Kubiak made a huge one when his block of Jake Reuter's punt was recovered by Brett Bailey at the 1. Four plays later Padron scored on a sneak to bring the score to 37-26. Nick McCulley blocked the PAT for Wesley.
Every time the Crusaders seemed to get back in it, though, they would seemingly shoot themselves in the foot. A bad snap on an UMHB punt forced Hunter Hamrick to take the ball out of the end zone and extended Wesley's lead to 39-26. Brett Parker intercepted Warrick on the next series, but three plays went nowhere and the Crusaders had to punt. Josh Kubiak forced a Kevin Nelson fumble on the Wolverines' next possession, but UMHB stalled within the shadow of the goalposts when Rollins lost three on fourth-and-goal from the 5. Nelson fumbled on the next play, but the Crusaders —again could not punch it in and settled for a 28-yard Zach Newcomb field goal.
Trailing 39-29 with 7:14 remaining in the game, the Crusaders still had a chance if they could come up with a defensive stop, but Warrick hooked up with Larry Beavers on the next play for the combo's fourth touchdown of the day. The 76-yard effort put the game out of reach at 46-29. Welch returned, but his touchdown to Adam Aguilera with eight-tenths of a second remaining merely made the final margin more respectable.
Warrick completed 15-of-31 for 357 yards and four touchdowns, all to Beavers. The fleet receiver gathered in a total of six passes for 239 yards on the day as the Crusader defense focused on Marcus Lee. Lee ended the day with four catches for 70 yards. Nick McPhaul (eight tackles, six solo) and Josh Kubiak (eight and three) led the Crusader defensive attack.
Rollins led all rushers with 179 yards on a school-record 42 carries. "That's as good a running back as you're going to see at this level," said Wesley coach Mike Drass.
Andy Padron added 38 yards on ten carries, and completed 6-of-7 for 40 yards. Welch completed 9-of-21 for 157, mostly in action after the outcome was not in doubt. Mario Harris (13 tackles, nine solo), Robinson (12 tackles, seven solo), Anthony Johnson (11 tackles, five solo), and Bryan Sorenson (ten tackles, two solo) led the Wesley defense.
"It was a great game," said Drass. "We felt without a doubt that (Mary Hardin-Baylor) was the best team we had ever played. We felt like it would take a perfect game for us to win. I don't know if we played perfect, but we played hard for four quarters and obviously we're real proud of the results. I'm speechless."
The 11-1 Wolverines return home next week to host Bridgewater for the South Region championship. The Crusaders end their season 9-2.