McMurry leans on defense in upset win at Trinity
McMurry University's defense and special teams powered the War Hawks to their first ever playoff win of any kind Saturday as the War Hawks knocked off No. 11 Trinity 25-16 on its home field in the first round of the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
The War Hawks defense held Trinity to only 44 yards rushing and 304 yards overall while picking off four passes and recovering a fumble. In addition, D.J. Baiza returned a punt for 52 yards for a score, and McMurry blocked a punt.
McMurry's starting quarterback, Jake Mullin, set out with a partially torn meniscus and LCL. However, Stephen Warren rushed and passed for a touchdown in his absence while leaning on the defense that delivered.
Trinity quarterback Nyk McKissic tossed four interceptions on a 15-of-36 effort; the junior did pass for 260 yards and one first-quarter touchdown, however. But, that 8-yard strike with 9:13 remaining to Matthew Kennemer would be the only offensive touchdown the War Hawks would allow.
The defense sacked McKissic four times and allowed only 1.5 yards per rush on the afternoon. Baiza, Will Morris, Kerry Gamble and Greg Pickney all had interceptions. Morris led the team with 10 tackles while Jimmy Terrell & Nick Hernandez had eight apiece.
Warren finished 17 of 34 for 188 yards and a touchdown with two picks. Simeon Neal had five receptions for 99 yards including 92 yards in the first half. His 30-yard reception in the first quarter in which he drug Trinity defenders for the final 10-yards of the play down to the Tiger 1-yard line, set up Warren's 1-yard touchdown run.
McMurry first took the lead in the second half after Jesse Garcia's 27-yard field goal put the War Hawks up 10-7. Delfonte Diamond caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 7:10 left in the third; McMurry completed a 2-point conversion to go up 18-7.
The Tigers' Garrett Biel connected on a 38-yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the third followed by a 37-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Tigers' Antonio Debouse. However, with a chance to tie on the two-point conversion, McKissic's pass fell incomplete and Trinity trailed 18-16 with 10:13 in the fourth.
Baiza sealed the deal with his second punt return in as many weeks, this one from 52 yards out with 5:12 remaining.
The War Hawks, ranked No. 19 by D3football.com and No. 22 by the AFCA, will take on Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton Saturday at noon. UMHB was the ASC champion and handed McMurry a 28-27 loss Sept. 17 for the War Hawks' only conference blemish.
McMurry won a ninth game in a season for only the second time, tying the 1980 squad that finished 9-2. That 1980 team was the only other team to make the playoffs in school history falling in the NAIA Division II Playoffs.