T.J. Josey caught a touchdown pass to get Mary Hardin-Baylor on the board early, took some snaps, ran the ball a few times, and earned the Most Outstanding Player trophy as the Cru defeated Mount Union, 24-16, to win Stagg Bowl XLVI and win the 2018 Division III football national title.
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It's the second national title for the Cru, who won the first Stagg Bowl to take place in the state of Texas. It was played in front of 6,816 fans at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Texas.
Mount Union jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first 12 minutes of the game, as the Purple Raiders converted a 41-yard Cory Barnett field goal and took advantage of a fumble by UMHB quarterback Jase Hammack. He lost the ball on the Cru's 23-yard line, Austin White wrestled the ball away from him, and five plays later D'Angelo Fulford cashed that in with a 1-yard touchdown run.
|By Joe Fusco, d3photography.com
The Cru (15-0) came out with renewed offensive fire, as Hammack hit K.J. Miller for a deep ball and followed it up with a ball to the end zone which Josey came down with for a 36-yard TD catch. The Purple Raiders (14-1) added a short field goal after a 14-play drive to extend the lead to 13-7, and tried to do the same with a long kick late in the first half. UMHB blocked the kick, however, setting up the Cru on its own 40, and seven plays later, Markeith Miller was taking a direct snap into the end zone, giving UMHB a 14-13 lead going into the half.
"I think the momentum when we went into the dressing room was on our side," said UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg. "It helped hold our confidence level high."
UMHB extended the lead to 24-16, including a bruising fourth-quarter drive in which Hammack converted on several long runs before finding K.J. Miller for an easy 16-yard touchdown pass. Miller was left wide open after late substitutions created confusion on the Mount Union defense. Hammack completed 11 of 19 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, while Markeith Miller ran for 90 yards and a touchdown in the win. Surprisingly, Hammack added 44 yards rushing on nine carries, earning the right to be called a dual threat quarterback. Even though he entered the game dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, the junior quarterback showed no fear, often lowering his shoulder and delivering hits to the Purple Raider defenders.
"It definitely provided a spark the first time he did it," said Josey. "After that, I told him to chill out, just get down and move on to the next down."
With DeNerian Thomas sidelined because of injury, Josey, his roommate and fellow senior, took a handful of snaps and ran for 21 yards. While Miller was often bottled up between the tackles, Josey found creases after motioning across the line and catching quick touch passes from Hammack. He provided relief by lining up at quarterback for the first time this season, filling the role that Thomas had thrived in this postseason.
"I told DeNerian that I was going to play for him. If he didn’t score that touchdown last week, we wouldn’t be here," said Josey. "I told the coaches, ‘If you need me, I’ve got you.’ I’ll do whatever it takes to win a game."
The Purple Raiders added a short field goal to cut the lead to eight, and got the ball back twice, but Fulford was injured on the second-to-last play of the game and Mount Union could not convert on multiple laterals on the final play.
Mount Union could not convert much at all offenseively, averaging just four yards per play, including 2.9 yards per rush. Josh Petruccelli was held to 57 yards on 16 carries, with 23 of those yards coming on a fake punt.
"I think early in the game, I know I missed a few tackles. It’s the nerves and excitement and you’ve got to learn to just calm it down. I finally settled down and started making tackles," said Cru-back Raylon Hickey. "We prepared for this for 15 weeks. It was our time to come out and perform. The senior leadership, we had to keep everybody calm."
The Crusaders earned revenge after losing Stagg Bowl XLV to the Purple Raiders. They did it by playing stifling defense and finding more offense than they were able to a year ago.
"They’ve got a great defense. Nobody is scoring a lot of points on their defense," said Mount Union coach Vince Kehres. "They just executed pretty well down the stretch and we couldn’t quite finish a couple of plays."
Despite this being the highest scoring Stagg Bowl since 2015, there were not many big plays. There were plenty of storylines coming in, and the game lived up to the hype. The excitement lasted until the final play, which itself lasted 17 seconds through a series of laterals. When the ball scuffled across the turf and out of bounds, the Texas-sized celebration began. The Cru seniors won their second national title, leaving a legacy and laying a foundation for the future.
Said Josey, "It's great to go out on top."