BELTON, Texas. – The Huntingdon football team ended its season with a 42-6 loss to top-ranked and defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The loss ends a season that saw the Hawks bounce back from a 1-2 start and finish with an 8-4 record. Huntingdon won its fourth USA South Athletic Conference title in five seasons, advanced to the Division III playoffs for the fifth time in program history and reached the second round of the playoffs for the second time. This was Huntingdon's first appearance in the second round since falling to Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2015.
This was the Crusaders' 16th consecutive appearance in the second round. Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-0), which has made three straight appearances in the national championship game, advances to the quarterfinals with a 27-game winning streak.
"We knew what we were up against. We knew Mary Hardin-Baylor is as fine a football program as there is in the country," Huntingdon head coach Mike Turk said. "I don't think they needed as much help as we gave them in the first half with turnovers. That was disappointing and obviously put us behind quickly. But I'm proud of the way our guys played and finished the game. We continued to play hard.
"I'm disappointed in the result, but I'm proud of the boys."
The Hawks turned the ball over four times in the first half, including three straight possessions in the first quarter. Huntingdon only trailed 10-0 at the start of the second quarter, but Mary Hardin-Baylor answered with 245 yards passing and three touchdowns in the second quarter to carry a 31-0 lead into halftime.
"We knew coming into the game that they were the top team in the country and that we were going to have to have a perfect game to even have a chance against these guys," Huntingdon junior running back Eric Thomas said. "So, having the turnovers in the first half put us behind. That was frustrating but we went into halftime with the mindset that we were going to stick together. That's the mindset we have had all year. We stick together, fight until the end and trust each other."
Thomas scored Huntingdon's touchdown on a 2-yard run with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
Records: Huntingdon (8-4); Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-0)
Passing: Michael Lambert: 17/30 for 174 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
Receiving: Cody Dwyer: 4 receptions for 42 yards
Otis Porter: 4 receptions for 31 yards
Rushing: Dontavion Cunningham: 12 rushes for 59 yards
Eric Thomas: 17 rushes for 57 yards, 1 TD
Punting: Zach Johnson: 4 punts, 44.8 average, long of 51 yards
Sacks: Gavin Walker (1)
Interceptions: D.J. King (1)
Passes Broken Up: Ke'Darius Thornton (2)
*Huntingdon's senior class left its mark on the program. During the past four seasons, the Hawks have a 30-13 record, three conference titles and three NCAA playoff appearances.
*Senior receiver Otis Porter, the Hawks' career-leader with 160 receptions for 3,045 receiving yards and 35 touchdown receptions, ended his final season with 57 receptions for 826 yards and a program-record 13 touchdowns. The 57 receptions are the second most in a season by a Hawk in program history.
*Running back Eric Thomas ended the season with 1,136 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns on 215 attempts. The first Hawk to rush for more than 1,000 yards in multiple seasons, Thomas' yards this season are the second most by a Huntingdon running back. Former Hawk Alex Baronich set the single-season mark with 1,197 yards in 2009.
Thomas will enter his senior season as the Hawks' third all-time leading rusher with 2,463 career yards and 27 career touchdowns). He trails former Hawks Trevor Manuel (3,021 yards and 44 touchdowns) and John Iwaniec (2,976 yards and 37 touchdowns).
*Senior running backs Kobe Smith and Dontavion Cunningham each ended their careers among the top-10 Huntingdon rushers in program history. Smith ranks seventh with 1,626 yards and Cunningham ranks ninth with 1,459 yards. Cunningham's 19 career rushing touchdowns are tied for sixth in Huntingdon history and Smith's 10 career rushing touchdowns are tied for 11th.
*Junior linebacker Mal Caldwell's 94 tackles this season are the third most in a season in Huntingdon history. Former linebacker Zach Brownell set the record with 99 tackles in eight games during the 2014 season.
Head Coach Mike Turk on the mark this team will leave on the Huntingdon program: "You can't say enough about this football team and what we did this season. From starting with a 1-2 record and rallying to find a way to be conference champions to winning a first-round playoff game, I don't think there were many people who thought that was a remote possibility after our first three games.
"But these players and coaches kept coming to work, kept fighting and kept believing and we accomplished a lot. I'm really proud of what these players and coaches came together and achieved this season."