MARSHALL, Texas- The UMHB football team was pushed to its limit on Saturday, as the Cru earned a narrow 30-28 victory over East Texas Baptist on a 37-yard go-ahead field goal from kicker Anthony Avila.
With just 2:18 left in the game, and the Cru trailing 28-27, Avila was summoned from the sideline for a 37 yard field goal on a fourth down and five. As the All-Conference kicker jogged onto the field, it was more important then than ever to have a short-term memory. He had missed all four of his field goal attempts earlier in the day.
“You have to have skills to be able to kick, but the mental part is [bigger],” said Avila prior to the game. “It is probably 70 percent mental. You’re mental game has to be there at all times.”
His mental game certainly was, as the senior split the uprights, giving UMHB the lead, and, as it turned out, the win.
With ETBU playing its final regular season game of the spring slate, and having lost to Louisiana College last week, the Tigers had plenty to play for on Saturday. They defended their home turf exceptionally well, taking an early 7-0 lead on a 73-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Troy Yowman to running back Cornelius Merchant. As Merchant caught the pass, he dodged multiple UMHB defenders, breaking at least three tackles while racing down the sideline and reaching the end zone. It was the first time the Cru had trailed in a game this season.
Allowing the touchdown pass was one of the few mistakes made by the UMHB defense in the opening quarter, as the Cru allowed only three first downs. ETBU’s defense had an equal amount of firepower, putting pressure on quarterback Tommy Bowden and holding the Cru scoreless in the first quarter.
UMHB began to find traction on its third possession of the following quarter, as the Cru kept the ball on the ground under the care of running back Montana Miller. The freshman found a lane and sprinted up the middle into the end zone on the second play of the drive with 8:42 remaining in the first half. That touchdown run put the Cru on the board, though it did not tie the score. Avila’s extra-point attempt was off the mark, and ETBU led 7-6.
That lead did not remain for long, as the tide suddenly turned in the direction of the Cru. UMHB safety Jefferson Fritz was all over Merchant as the running back lost the football on the ETBU 19 yard line. Linebacker Jacob Mueller was right there for the Cru, and recovered the fumble with 7:46 on the clock.
Quarterback Kyle King was given an opportunity as Bowden took a breather, and the Milano, Texas native did not disappoint, flashing a powerful running ability. On consecutive designed quarterback runs, King picked up gains of eight and 10 yards, the latter going for a touchdown to put the Cru in front 13-7.
The UMHB defense continued to cause havoc in ETBU’s passing game, and forced Yowman to throw a pass right into the hands of UMHB safety Jefferson Fritz, who took the interception and raced 30 yards upfield. However, Frtiz was hit hard, and the ball was jarred loose, as ETBU fell on it and retained possession. Fritz did not miss his chance completely, as the senior picked off Yowman nine plays later, returning it 18 yards. His timing was crucial, as the Tigers were knocking on the door, just 28 yards from the end zone.
UMHB was unable to cash in on the opportunity, though, despite a phenomenal 42-yard strike from King to receiver Brenton Martin. Avila’s attempted field goal was wide with 52 seconds left in the quarter.
After outscoring ETBU 13-0 in the second quarter, the Cru put 14 points on the board in the third. Though Bowden would end UMHB’s first drive of the second half by throwing an interception, he showed a tenacious mentality, and tossed UMHB’s only passing touchdown of the game, connecting with receiver Kadarius Daniels from 24 yards out on the following possession.
UMHB running back Melek Hamilton took a handoff just over two minutes later, darting past the ETBU defense for an 11-yard rushing touchdown, as the Cru took a secure 27-7 lead.
A second Bowden interception with 3:51 left in the quarter gave the Tigers prime field position on the UMHB 32 yard line, as Yowman fired a 27-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing drive. The touchdown trimmed UMHB’s lead to 13.
Unlike in prior contests, UMHB found itself unable to pull away from ETBU, as the Tigers matched the Cru step for step, and made it a one-score game in the early moments of the fourth quarter. King was the coaching staff’s decision to finish out the game at quarterback, and he appeared poised under tremendous pressure, though several incompletions left the door open for ETBU, who found the end zone with 7:52 remaining in the game. Having seen a 20-point lead erased in what felt like the blink of an eye, the Cru mounted one final, 12-play, 42-yard drive. King went three-of-six passing, but Martin came up big on the first play, hauling in a 17-yard pass that put UMHB in opposing territory.
Everything on that last possession led up to Avila’s go-ahead field goal. The field goal may not be remembered like his game-winner against Hardin-Simmons is, but it saved a 38-game* conference winning streak from snapping on a spring afternoon in Marshall.
Though the UMHB offense had its ups and downs, and the defense allowed 28 more points than it wanted to, there were several positives in the narrow victory. Fritz was all over the field, tallying two interceptions for 48 yards. As a team, the Cru had four interceptions and forced two fumbles, recovering one.
ETBU stayed in the game through the air, as Yowman threw four interceptions, but went 24-of-48 passing for 354 yards and three touchdowns.
The Cru has it a bye week before returning to the gridiron on March 20 for a duel in Belton against Louisiana College.
*- Includes vacated wins from 2016, 2017.
UMHB stats and category leaders:
QB King: 5/13, 81 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
QB Bowden: 7/19, 58 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
RB Miller: 11 carries, 50 yards, 1 TD
QB King: 9 carries, 33 yards, 1 TD
WR Martin: 4 receptions, 68 yards, 0 TD
WR Miller: 5 receptions, 29 yards, 0 TD
WR Daniels: 2 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD