CANTON, Ohio –The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team exploded in the second half to claim the program’s second NCAA Division III National Championship with a 57-24 win over North Central College Friday night in Canton.
Deangelo Hardy opened the game with a 93-yard kickoff return, giving North Central a 7-0 lead just 12 seconds in. UMHB responded with a scoring drive of their own, going 77 yards to put three points on the board with a 32-yard field goal from Brandon Cunningham. UMHB’s defense forced the Cardinals into a three-and-out on their next possession with a 12-yard punt giving UMHB the ball at the NCC 19-yard line. Kyle King capitalized, throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jordan to put the Cru up 9-7. The Cru put seven more points up in the first quarter with a 19-yard touchdown grab from K.J. Miller, leading 16-7 after the first 15 minutes of action.
UMHB’s defense made a pair of goal-line stops on the Cardinals’ next drive before officials ruled Ethan Greenfield’s one-yard rush a touchdown on third down. Tanner Rains made his point-after attempt to cut UMHB’s lead to just two points with 5:32 left in the second quarter. Cunningham responded for the Cru, closing out the half with a 22-yard field goal to give UMHB a 19-17 lead at the half.
The Cru scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 16-point lead. UMHB opened the quarter with a 12-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown run from Aphonso Thomas. Jefferson Fritz intercepted a pass on the Cardinals’ next possession and UMHB went 91 yards for another Thomas scoring run. Mikkah Hackett ended the third quarter with an interception and 42-yard return to set up another scoring drive as the Cru opened the fourth with a 20-yard field goal from Cunningham.
Hackett intercepted his second pass of the game on the next NCC drive, leading to an 11-yard touchdown run from Kenneth Cormier, Jr. to put the Cru up 43-17. The Cardinals added another score with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter but UMHB responded with a 37-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Sims. Ryan Redding threw one more touchdown pass for the Cru to end the game with a 57-24 UMHB victory.
UMHB totaled 596 yards of offense in the contest and set a new program record with 463 yards in the air. King led UMHB’s passing attack, throwing for a program-record 436 yards and tying the record for passing touchdowns in a season with 35. King went 22-for-29 in the contest with three touchdowns. Aphonso Thomas and Kenneth Cormier split the running back duties for the Cru, combining for 116 yards and three touchdowns. K.J. Miller and Brenton Martin led a receiving core that featured four separate receivers with touchdown grabs. Martin caught nine passes for 196 yards while Miller had nine grabs for 149 yards. Defensively, Keith Gipson led UMHB with 11 tackles followed by Mikkah Hackett with 10. Hackett added two tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two interceptions in the contest. Jefferson Fritz added an interception for the Cru while Tristan Green also forced a fumble.
Brandon Cunningham led the Cru’s special teams, going three-for-three in field goals with six extra points made. Miller recorded the Cru’s only punt return while Aaron Sims and Tommy Bowden each had two kick returns. UMHB did not punt in the contest.
Mikkah Hackett was named Most Outstanding Player of the game. The Cru ends the season with a 15-0 record in 2021, reaching the team’s goal of 20 wins during the 2021 year. This is the Cru’s second national title and third appearance in the NCAA Division III national championship game. The Cardinals close out the season at 13-1 with their 24-game win streak snapped by the Cru.