There was high drama in Salem, Virginia Friday night, as Mary-Hardin Baylor won their first Division III Championship in a low-scoring affair against Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The Cru, who had been an offensive powerhouse throughout the 2016 season needed a standout performance from their defense to take down the Titans and take home the hardware, prevailing 10-7.
Dual-threat QB Blake Jackson, an All-American, starred for the Cru in a game that saw first downs come at a premium and the two teams combine for less than 600 yards of offense. While the numbers were down from his usual herculean output, he did just enough on the ground and through the air to lead his team to a Stagg Bowl Victory. Jackson led all players with 119 yards rushing – also scoring the Cru’s lone TD – and added another 171 yards through the air on 16-27 passing.
After UMHB went three and out to open play, Oshkosh put the first points of the game on the board on the strength of solid play from their quarterback, Brett Kaspar, who converted a pair of crucial third downs and hit CJ Blackburn for 39 yards, leading to a Dylan Hecker short TD run. The Cru would answer back, putting together a long (eight and a half minutes!) drive, using 20 plays to go 66 yards, leading to a 22 yard field goal. After a back and forth defensive affair, Mary Hardin-Baylor would take their first lead of the game, as Jackson snuck darted across the goal line from a yard out with just minutes remaining in the half. The 75 yard drive was the Blake Jackson show, as he got it done on the ground and through the air to get the Cru into the end zone. With just minutes to go, and the Titans driving, Jaedon Johnson made an interception at his own goal line to preserve the lead going into the half – and that would be the end of the scoring.
The Titans would have another opportunity though, as a solid drive, including a 20 yard flea flicker, went for naught for the Cru, as they missed a field goal in the red zone and gave Oshkosh the ball back with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Kasper matriculated his team down the field through the air, and a pass interference call moved them close to field goal range. Three straight incompletions from the UMHB 35 led to a fourth and ten, and with the Titans just outside of field goal range, they were forced to go for it on fourth and long. Matt Cody would pick off the ensuing pass at his own 22, ending the game and securing a championship for the Cru.
Mary Hardin-Baylor finished 15-0 on the season, averaging 49 points per game and pummeling opponents by an average of six touchdowns. But, it was their lowest scoring output of the season that brought them home the title – their first, and the first to be won by a team not named Mount Union or Wisconsin-Whitewater in 11 years. Jackson was named MVP, capping off a season that saw him amass over 4,000 yards of offense – 902 on the ground and 3,111 through the air – and account for 45 total touchdowns. Though the Titans held the Cru 150 yards and 39 points under their season average, it was not enough to keep UMHB from winning the Stagg Bowl in the first ever meeting between the two teams.
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