BELTON, Tex. — The impact of the loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2018 NCAA Division III quarterfinals can't be overstated for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
"That game was a great moment for this program," UW-W head coach Kevin Bullis said. "That loss was, very seriously, a great moment for us in the sense of learning. That’s one of the things that, for me, I’m proud of this group of young men and the staff. They’re a really gritty group — they take adverse moments and they grab from it what they can.
"Last year’s game was a very adverse moment for the program and this team. They took it as a growth moment. That’s been a key piece pushing us all season."
All the lessons were utilized as the Warhawks (12-1) earned a 26-7 victory over Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-1) in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal on Saturday at Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas.
One major lesson learned was the physicality needed to earn the victory. UW-Whitewater ran the ball 57 times for 239 yards. Mary Hardin-Baylor had 13 carries for 37 yards and lost 40 yards on sacks.
When the Warhawks turned the ball over four times in the 31-14 loss last year, Bullis learned all he needed to know watching the film.
"We felt like if we could control the football, we’re going to be able to move the football on the ground," Bullis said. "If we can block in the manner that we did a year ago. Up front, that was the first thing I looked at.
"There were a lot of stalemates last year, but that was something that we felt like we needed to not have stalemates. We needed to get a push today and that was really a resounding message all week."
Jarrod Ware carried the ball 14 times for 110 yards and Alex Peete had 19 carries for 76 yards.
Nate Tranel was in coverage when Mary Hardin-Baylor scored in the second quarter to trim its deficit to three points.
The Warhawks didn't significantly adjust its coverage to account for Jonel Reed, who had 100 yards receiving four times this season and had 10 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns in their second-round victory one week earlier.
Tranel had an interception and Jordan Brand recovered a fumble in UW-Whitewater territory which kept the Mary Hardin-Baylor offense from finding the end zone again as the Warhawks came away with the win.
"We came into the year confident in what we needed to do," Tranel said. "This week in practice, we had a great week. It’s just sticking to our process and knowing exactly what we needed to do, where our eyes needed to be and route concepts so that we know that if we go out and keep them in front of us we should be able to run with them.
"The biggest thing was don’t give up the deep balls, don’t give up big plays."
Tranel was in coverage up the seam when quarterback Jase Hammack attempted to complete a pass to slot receiver Jaylen Jenkins. The ball was under thrown and Tranel caught it. UW-Whitewater punted three plays later, but the takeaway kept the Crusaders from putting points on the board.
Meylor manages offense
On the first two drives of the game, UW-Whitewater dialed up plays to take advantage of Mary Hardin-Baylor tendencies. The first completion of the game was a pass up the sideline to Tyler Holte.
The Warhawks put three receivers in a formation that they run screens out of and the UMHB defensive back attacked the line of scrimmage aggressively to break up the screen. Holte proceeded up the sideline and Meylor threw a pass with enough pace to beat the safety coming over the top.
Holte went for 12 yards and the Warhawks planted a seed to limit the aggressiveness with which UMHB could attack the receivers.
The throw that ultimately separated the Warhawks came in the second quarter when Meylor connected with Ryan Wisniewski for 36 yards. The throw signaled to the Crusaders that they had to respect the vertical passing game and that UW-Whitewater would be able to get back to pounding the rock.
What time is it?
The Warhawks ran a 17-play, 79-yard drive after Mary Hardin-Baylor punted on its opening possession. The drive took 9 minutes, 21 seconds and UW-Whitewater came away with a 3-0 lead.
The Warhawks followed that up with a 12-play, 64-yard drive capped off by a touchdown by Ware to take a 10-0 lead.
By the end of the game, the Mary Hardin-Baylor defense was on the field for 42 minutes, 45 seconds.
"It was pretty exhausting," UMHB linebacker Tevin Jones said. "We knew that was going to be their game plan. If they could keep our offense off the field and their offense on the field, that's exactly what they did."