CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Kyle King passed for 445 yards and three touchdowns, Alphonso Thomas rushed for two more scores and Mary Hardin-Baylor broke away after halftime to unseat reigning champion North Central (Ill.) College 57-24 on Friday night to win the NCAA Division III national football title.
Thomas, who gained 65 yards on 13 carries, scored both touchdowns in the third quarter on runs of 15 and 3 yards as the Cru (15-0) extended a two-point halftime lead.
Brandon Cunningham kicked a 20-yard field goal, his third of the night, to open the fourth quarter. Kenneth Cormier added an 11-yard run just two minutes later after an interception.
Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Mikkah Hackett picked off a dart from Luke Lehnen on fourth down as the Cru had dropped eight players into pass coverage. Hackett returned the interception, Lehnen’s third and final of the game, 26 yards to the North Central 46, setting up Cormier’s touchdown.
The 24-0 run put Mary Hardin-Baylor in control as it headed to its second national championship and first since the 2018 season.
King broke Mary Hardin-Baylor’s single-game record for passing yards in a game. The previous mark was 397 yards.
North Central (13-1) opened on a high note with DeAngelo Hardy returning the opening kickoff 93 yards, the longest kickoff return for a touchdown in the history of the National Championship game. The championship game loss broke a string of 24 straight wins for the top-seeded Cardinals.
Lehnen finished 18-for-27 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown. Ethan Greenfield picked up 124 yards on 25 carries and scored from the 1 in the second quarter.
Mary Hardin-Baylor took a 19-17 lead into halftime thanks to a Cunningham 22-yard field goal as time expired. The Cru built a 16-7 lead on back-to-back 19-yard touchdown passes from Kyle King to Brandon King and K.J. Miller in the first quarter.
Mary Hardin-Baylor, which ranks third nationally in scoring (48.3), has outscored their five opponents in the postseason, 185-65.
ALL D-III TEAM
Record-breaking Central (Iowa) quarterback Blaine Hawkins and North Central (Iowa) receiver Andrew Kamienski highlighted The Associated Press Division III All-America team released earlier Friday. Hawkins won the Gagliardi Trophy as the nation’s top Division III player after setting an NCAA record with 63 touchdown passes. …Mary-Hardin Baylor defensive back Jefferson Fritz, another Gagliardi finalist, also made the first team. Fritz also punts and returns kicks.