The University of Redlands football team squared off against the No. 1 University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX) Crusaders in the first round of the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday in Belton, TX. In the teams' fifth meeting, the Bulldogs put together their best showing en route to a 21-14 halftime lead, before the Cru rallied to take this one by a score of 50-28.
Redlands jumped out to a 14-0 advantage with two lucrative drives early in the contest. Senior wide receiver Stephen Rodriguez's (Brentwood CA) 21-yard pass to freshman tight end Blake Roy (Wahougal, WA) on a fake punt kept the Bulldogs' opening possession alive. Sophomore running back Conner Kennedy (Olympia, WA) scampered into the end zone on a five-yard carry for the Maroon and Gray's first touchdown of the playoff game.
Three plays later, senior defensive back Aaron Mandell (Seattle, WA) snagged an interception to set up the Maroon and Gray's second scoring drive. On first and goal, junior quarterback Mitch Kidd (Salinas, CA) found junior wide receiver Christian Guzman (Desert Hot Springs, CA) on a six-yard strike to make it 14-0 with 5:27 remaining in the opening quarter.
After UMHB cut the deficit in half, Redlands' special teams came up with another big-time play. Junior linebacker Mitch Shepherd (Seattle, WA) forced a Cru fumble, which Mandell scooped up and returned it 40 yards to the house.
UMHB's late score sent the teams into the locker room with Redlands holding a 21-14 advantage.
The second half saw the Cru take their first lead of the game on a safety and touchdown early in the third quarter.
However, Redlands gained another explosive play on special teams when junior wide receiver Kyle Kabeary (Indio, CA) returned a kickoff from one end zone to the other for a 100-yard scoring play to make it a two-point game.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, UMHB remained steady in the final quarter to put the game away.
Redlands completes the 2016 season with an 8-2 record as the undefeated Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) champions.