BELTON, Texas - During the Rowan football team's six-game winning streak, it was the defense that stepped to the forefront.
That unit pitched a shutout in a 24-0 win over Endicott last week but couldn't hold up against the explosiveness of second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.
The 24th-ranked Profs scored first but allowed 35 unanswered points to close the first half and went down to a 59-8 loss Saturday at Crusader Stadium in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"Mary Hardin-Baylor is a very good football team in all phases - offense, defense, special teams - very dynamic in all areas," Rowan coach Jay Accorsi said. "Early on, we scored and had a little energy. I thought we were doing OK there, and it just all kind of crumbled."
Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-0) rolled up 525 yards of total offense, 337 of which came on the ground, and added a pair of scores in the kicking game during the fourth quarter. The first of those came on a punt that bounced off of Rowan's Jared Sanchez (Hammonton H.S.) at the 5-yard line and rolled into the end zone, where the Crusaders recovered it, and another on a 71-yard punt return by Cody Jones less than two minutes later.
By that time, however, the game was out of reach. It was the dominance of the Crusaders up front on both sides of the ball that allowed the score to get out of hand.
The Profs (9-3) had the offense going on their first drive, with Withler Marcelin doing most of the work. After a 42-yard kickoff return by Matt Dortch set Rowan up at its own 49, Marcelin ran for 13 yards to get the march started. He carried five more times on the nine play drive, including the 4-yard touchdown run.
Those running lanes for Marcelin and the Profs closed quickly after that, and they finished with 104 yards on 48 ground attempts, a 2.2 average, and Mary Hardin-Baylor produced 15 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"We can go down on the first drive and do whatever we did to meticulously drive down the field, but you have to do it for four quarters, and that's what we didn't do," Marcelin said. "As backs and myself, we didn't do the things we were supposed to do. We had spurts of it today, which shows we can play with people, but we have to be able to sustain that high level of play for four quarters."
The Crusaders punted on their first possession but scored touchdowns on each of their last five chances in the first half.
The last one was especially big, as it came on the heels of a missed opportunity for Rowan. The Profs drove to the Mary Hardin-Baylor 12, but a fourth-down pass was picked off by Jones and returned back across midfield to the 49 with 36 seconds left before halftime.
Crusaders quarterback Zach Anderson, who threw for 168 yards and three scores and added another 116 yards on the ground, popped a 42-yard run to start the march, then hit Keith Reineke in the back of the end zone for a back-breaking touchdown and 35-6 advantage.
"It hurt, but going into the locker room we were still upbeat," said Rowan safety Kurt Kingett, a former St. Augustine Prep standout who finished with six tackles. "We felt like we could come out strong, get a three-and-out and drive right back down the field and send a message, but obviously, that hurt. That was tough."
The defense did keep the Crusaders out of the end zone in the third quarter, and Rowan scored a safety on a blocked punt but the result was never in doubt after halftime.
Khalil Pierce was the Profs' top rusher with 43 yards on 15 carries, while Bill McCarty was 9-for-15 for 105 yards, 70 of which went to Frankie Goris on two catches.
Elijah Hudson was the Crusaders' leading ground-gainer with 136 yards and a touchdown, and he gave Rowan fits with his powerful style.
"Early we made a few mistakes, and it seemed like every mistake we made was going for six for them," Kingett said. "And they just did a good job of capitalizing on it. And (Hudson) is a big boy. He started to wear us down a little."