Belton, Texas – With the offense struggling, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team relied on its defense and special teams to come up with big plays in the second half as the Cru topped St. Thomas 24-10 in an NCAA Division III Quarterfinal Game Saturday in Belton. UMHB will now advance to the National Semifinals for the third time in the last five seasons and for the seventh time in program history.
UMHB threw an interception in the St. Thomas end zone, punted twice and missed a 35-yard field goal attempt in its first four possessions as the game would be scoreless moving into the second quarter. The Tommie offense managed just 39 yards of offense in that opening period. The Cru opened the scoring on Markeith Miller's one-yard touchdown run one play after Carl Robinson III hit T.J. Josey with a 35-yard completion to the UST one-yard line. John Mowery's extra point gave UMHB a 7-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first half. Another UMHB interception set up a short field for St. Thomas and Jacques Perra hit Jackson Hull with a 26-yard touchdown pass on the next play to tie the game at 7-7. DeNerian Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Tommie ten-yard line and Mowery kicked a 26-yard field goal four plays later to put the Cru up 10-7. Bryan Steinsapir drilled a 49-yard field goal on the final play of the first half for St. Thomas to even the game at 10-10 going into halftime.
Both defenses dominated in the third quarter as Steinsapir's 51-yard field goal was wide left on the only real scoring chance of the stanza for either team. UMHB's special teams came up with another big play early in the fourth quarter as Bryce Wilkerson fielded a UST punt at the Cru 33-yard line, weaved his way through the coverage unit and then outran the Tommies punter to the end zone for a 67-yard scoring return. Wilkerson's return gave UMHB a 17-10 lead with 11:22 remaining in the game. Three plays later, Kris Brown stepped in front of a Perra pass and returned it 33 yards for another score to put the Cru up 24-10. St. Thomas would march to the UMHB ten-yard line on the Tommies' final drive of the game, but lost one yard on the next three plays and Ajay Fanene sacked Perra for a seven-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard line to force a turnover on downs and clinch the victory for the Cru.
UMHB was held to just 143 yards of total offense in the game and was held to an all-time program low of -16 rushing yards. The Tommies recorded six sacks and intercepted two passes. The Cru limited the Tommies high-powered attack to just 62 rushing yards and 252 yards of total offense as UMHB posted seven sacks.
Robinson was 17-25 passing for 159 yards for the Cru. Wilkerson had seven catches for 47 yards and Josey added 74 yards on three receptions. UMHB punter Zane Boles averaged 49.7 yards on seven kicks and drilled a career-long 71-yarder to help the Cru flip the field position. Wilkerson's punt return for a touchdown was the seventh of his career and his 11th combined kick return for a score. Brown added his fourth defensive touchdown of the season. Fanene had 3.5 sacks among his six total tackles for UMHB and Tommy Brown recorded seven tackles and broke up four passes for the Cru.
Perra finished 13-29 through the air for 190 yards and a score. Matt Christenson caught four passes for 48 yards and Gabe Green had 91 yards on three receptions. Josh Parks ran for 68 yards on 20 carries. Dylan Andrew had nine total tackles for the Tommies, Michael Franzese intercepted two passes and Blake Weber added 2.5 sacks.
The top-ranked Cru improves to 13-0 with the victory and advances to face Brockport in next Saturday's Semifinals. The game site and start time for that contest will be announced on Sunday. Brockport advanced with a 31-28 win over Delaware Valley on Saturday. UMHB has now won 28 consecutive games. The loss ends the fourth-ranked Tommies season at 11-2 overall. St. Thomas was playing in the Quarterfinals for the seventh time in the last nine seasons and had a ten-game winning streak snapped.