UMHB playoff football

UMHB wide receiver KJ Miller leaps over Birmingham-Southern’s Gibbs Sherrell during Saturday’s playoff game at Crusader Stadium.

BELTON — Just two days prior to his team’s biggest game to date this season, Mary Hardin-Baylor quarterback Ryan Redding was told he would start for only the third time this year.

The senior took the news in stride, went about his business and did his part to ensure the Crusaders have an even bigger contest on next week’s schedule.

Redding threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 2 UMHB contained Birmingham-Southern All-American running back Robert Shufford and the rest of the 19th-ranked Panthers to cruise to a 42-7 victory in an NCAA Division III second-round playoff game on a rain-soaked Saturday afternoon at Crusader Stadium.

It was Redding’s first time atop the depth chart since he made back-to-back starts Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, and he played his way into the starting conversation for next Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup between UMHB (12-0) and No. 6 Linfield (11-0) at — in all likelihood — Crusader Stadium.

“This was a lot different. It’s a playoff game. I obviously hadn’t started one in the four years I’ve been here, but I’ve gotten to play behind some guys who have and I felt like I was prepared just from watching those guys,” said Redding, who was 14-of-23 passing without an interception and rushed for 55 yards. “From the first game I started this season until now, I feel like I’ve progressed. I’ve gotten to understand what it takes to play college football at a high level.”

Redding got the nod over fellow senior Kyle King, who started the other eight games this season but has battled a case of turf toe and struggled at times in last week’s 13-3 first-round win over No. 14 Trinity.

“It was a combination of a lot of things, and we felt like Ryan deserved to start after the way he performed in the two games he played (in the regular season),” Crusaders head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “He did an incredible job today.”

Redding’s 21-yard TD throw to KJ Miller opened the scoring, and Birmingham-Southern (10-2) tied it immediately with DJ Albright’s 89-yard return on the ensuing kickoff.

The Panthers never found the end zone again, though.

“We played as hard as we could for all four quarters. When you’re playing a team as talented and seasoned as Mary Hardin-Baylor, you can’t make costly mistakes,” Birmingham-Southern head coach Tony Joe White said. “That’s a great football team we played, and they create a lot of matchup issues for you. Credit to them. They have some great players.”

Shufford came in averaging 117 yards rushing per game but managed only 60, and the Panthers finished with just 243 total yards — 220 yards and 31 points below their average — against a UMHB defense that produced 10 tackles for losses and kept constant pressure on Birmingham-Southern quarterback Trey Patterson.

“We knew coming in that they were going to try to run the ball. Our defense and coaching staff did a really good job of game planning,” said UMHB senior All-American safety Jefferson Fritz, who had seven tackles and an interception. “It was about running to the football. Our mentality is to get 11 people to the football and really swarm them.”

Redding’s 6-yard TD throw to Miller, and Kenneth Cormier’s 3-yard scoring run — set up by Fritz’s interception — extended the Crusaders’ advantage to 21-7 by halftime.

Cormier, who finished with a game-high 65 yards rushing, plunged in from the 1 in the third. Brandon Jordan hauled in Redding’s perfectly placed 63-yard TD pass early in the fourth, and Aphonso Thomas ran in from 15 yards out to cap the scoring.

Jordan had three catches for 101 yards, Brenton Martin made four receptions for 94 yards, and Pete Smith tallied two of UMHB’s four sacks as the Crusaders dictated the action on both sides of the ball.

Up next is Linfield, which won its first four postseason meetings with UMHB before the Crusaders knocked off the Wildcats in the regular season and playoffs in 2016 and ’17 — four wins that were later vacated by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, leaving Linfield with an official 4-0 advantage in the all-time series.

“It gets harder every week in the playoffs, so we wanted to come out of this game with a lot of confidence and feeling good about our offense and defense,” Fredenburg said. “We’re excited to play Linfield. We know how good they are. They do a great job and have a great program, but we’re certainly not intimidated by Linfield.”

NOTES: Linfield was a 31-28 winner over No. 5 St. John’s on Saturday. . . . The assumption that UMHB will host next week’s national quarterfinal is based on the teams’ placement in the 32-team playoff bracket. The NCAA will announce next week’s four host sites today.