Linfield capped a 13-0 season and claimed its first NCAA Division III Football Championship December 18 in a hard-fought 28-21 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Virginia.
Both schools were vying for their first championship win since joining Division III in 1998. Linfield's perfect record this season set a school record for victories in a season. The Crusaders' 13-2 finish was their most successful season in the program's seven-year history. Mary Hardin-Baylor had never won a playoff game before claiming four straight road wins this year en route to becoming the first American Southwest Conference program to play for an NCAA national championship in a team sport.
The Wildcats struck first on their opening drive with a 39-yard pass from Brett Elliott to Brandon Hazenberg for a touchdown less than a minute into the game. The Crusaders answered with a 14-yard pass from Josh Welch to P.J. Williams to tie the game.
Linfield took the lead in the second quarter when Riley Jenkins rushed 14 yards into the end zone. Mary Hardin-Baylor continued the see-saw five minutes later when Williams caught a 30-yard pass from Welch. The extra-point attempt by Zach Newcomb was blocked, though, and Linfield retained its 14-13 lead. The Wildcats padded that lead to 21-13 when Elliott ran for his second score with 27 seconds left in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Crusaders converted an 18-yard run from Freddie Rollins and the ensuing two-point play to tie the game at 21. After forcing a Linfield punt, Mary Hardin-Baylor fumbled the ball at its own 10-yard line. Elliott ended that drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Riley Jenkins, making the score 28-21.
Both teams punted on their subsequent possessions, but the Crusaders made a convincing drive to the Linfield 25-yard line, only to have Linfield sack Welch on fourth down, ending hopes for a rally.
Jenkins was named the game's most outstanding player for a performance that included 81 rushing yards on 18 carries and four receptions for 64 yards. Elliott passed for 4,695 yards this season, breaking the prior Division III single-season record of 4,501. He threw for 61 touchdowns this year.
Williams also had a stellar year, setting Crusaders single-season records for receptions (44), receiving yards (869) and touchdown receptions (11). Welch set a school record for touchdown passes with 15.
|Linfield||7||14||0||7 -- 28|
|Mary Hardin-Baylor||7||6||0||8 -- 21|
L: Brandon Hazenberg 39 pass from Brett Elliott (Garrett Wales kick), 14:16
MHB: P.J. Williams 14 pass from Josh Welch (Zach Newcomb kick), 7:50
L: Riley Jenkins 14 run (Wales kick), 7:24
MHB: Williams 30 pass from Welch (Newcomb kick blocked), 2:12
L: Elliott 1 run (Wales kick), 00:27
MHB: Rollins 18 run (Rollins rush), 9:01
L: Jenkins 10 pass from Elliott (Wales kick), 5:51
Mary Hardin-Baylor Linfield
|Time of possession||36:07||23:53|
Rushing: Mary Hardin-Baylor -- Chad Starnes 10-67; Freddie Rollins 8-42; Justin Bryson 17-26; Welch 8-22; Andy Padron 10-5; Kyle Green 1-1; Hunter Hamrick 1-minus 8. Linfield -- Riley Jenkins 18-81; Hazenberg 1-17; George Carter 1-2; Brad McKechnie 1-1; Elliott 4-minus 4.
Passing: Mary Hardin-Baylor -- Welch 9-18-1-170; Padron 3-4-0-30. Linfield -- Elliott 20-34-2-282.
Receiving: Mary Hardin-Baylor -- Williams 8-160; Steven Thomas 2-17; Austin Schrader 1-15; Justin Bryson 1-8. Linfield -- George Carter 6-69; Brad McKechnie 4-71; Jenkins 4-64; Hazenberg 3-54; Casey Allen 3-24.