Above image by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- In the UMHB football team’s final meeting with Louisiana College on Saturday, the Cru left a lasting memory.
A consistent offensive line and a strong second-half performance defensively paved the way for the Cru to defeat the Wildcats, who are heading to the NAIA after this spring season, 65-20.
The victory moved UMHB to an impressive 4-0 on the spring, as the Crusaders clinched the ASC East Division title, and will play at Hardin-Simmons next Saturday at 1 p.m. CT in the conference championship game. Louisiana College dropped to an even 2-2 on the year.
“The perfect scenario was a close game at ETBU, really having to get down and win it,” said UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg, “an open date, which we really had to work on fundamentals, and then to play a good game like this. It goes without saying that the attitude that anybody, at anytime, can beat us if we’re not focused in helped as well. This is great for us.
“Hardin-Simmons is Hardin-Simmons. We’re going to be excited to play.”
Neither team gained much traction passing the ball in the first half, though the running games put both on the board early. LC outrushed UMHB 155 yards to 126 yards, though the Wildcats were just 4-of-10 passing, while the Cru went 3-of-15 through the air.
LC opened the game by picking up four first downs on a 70-yard drive, three of those coming off running plays to the outside by running backs Devin Briscoe and Markalyn Millburn. Briscoe capped the 13-play drive, as he picked up a fumble knocked from the hands of LC quarterback Sal Palermo III and hurdled multiple UMHB defenders to score the touchdown, putting the Wildcats up 7-0.
“Here’s the thing that we knew all week long,” said Fredenburg when talking about LC’s success in the run game. “Our freshmen defensive tackles were going to have a chore stopping them in the middle. That’s essentially what we gave up a lot.”
The Cru countered on the enusing possession, as Kyle King earned the start at quarterback. King fired an incomplete pass to begin the drive, before running backs Montana Miller and Melek Hamilton each broke significant gains up the middle. King closed the drive, running behind blockers into the end zone for a rushing touchdown.
“It was my first start since high school so I was pretty nervous,” said King postgame. “Had a good first drive, we went down early, drove the field, tied it up. On the next drive I missed two open guys on throws. After that drive, I felt like I calmed down and played pretty well.”
King finished the game having played the entire first half and the majority of the second half. The junior went 12-of-21 passing for 259 yards with four touchdowns while adding two scores on the ground and 50 rushing yards. Sophomore Tommy Bowden also saw the field in the second half, as he went 4-of-6 passing for 28 yards and added 20 rushing yards.
UMHB’s defense displayed its resiliency after allowing the early touchdown, and forced a three and out on the Wildcats’ following possession. UMHB receiver KJ Miller returned LC’s punt for a touchdown from the UMHB 48 yard line down the sideline to take a 13-7 after kicker Brandon Cunningham shanked the extra point.
The defense had another lapse with 12:05 in the second quarter, as Briscoe took a handoff into the right side of the end zone, and tied the score at 13.
Trying to work the passing aspect of its offense, LC inserted quarterback James Powell into the game. On Powell’s first snap from the Wildcats’ own eight-yard line, the Cru defense blitzed and forced him to fire a pass into the hands of UMHB linebacker Jacob Mueller, who returned it eight yards for the score, putting Cru in front 20-13.
“It’s funny because on that rollout, I was supposed to be on the quarterback,” recalled Mueller. “But all love to the D-Line, they were already there to do it, so I just sat back and had a show and he decided to reward me for it.”
The defense was responsible for the Cru’s next touchdown as well, as safety Drake Johnson picked off Palmero III, setting up King’s second rushing touchdown of the day from two yards out.
LC kept the score close, as Palmero III found a wide-open Micah Dunn on a 36-yard touchdown completion with 49 seconds to go in the opening half to cut the deficit to 14 points, 34-20.
A Cunningham 33-yard field goal as time expired in the first half gave UMHB a 37-20 lead at halftime. Cunningham handled the kicking duties for the entire game, as starter Anthony Avila was injured on the opening kickoff and did not dress out for the second half.
Though King had a rough first half passing, he found receiver Kadarius Daniels on a 84-yard strike two plays into the third quarter, scoring a touchdown as UMHB pulled away with a 44-20 advantage.
King was replaced by Bowden on the following drive, and the sophomore led the Cru downfield as the ball was kept on the ground. The drive ended 10 yards shy of the end zone, however, as Bowden went to the air on a second and seven and tossed an interception to LC’s Tyren Young.
Despite the miscue, he redeemed himself on UMHB’s following drive, keeping the ball himself on a 12-yard touchdown run that extended the lead to 51-20.
King found receiver Romello Cook and Hamilton through the air for the Cru’s final touchdowns of the contest in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line play guided both the Cru’s rushing and passing attack, as LC lost the battle in the trenches.
“I was talking to [UMHB offensive line head coach Bill Bleil] during the game today and I told him, ‘[The O-Line] is the one group that has consistently improved every single game,” said King. “Today was no different. They dominated the line of scrimmage.”
The defense played with a similar intensity, and demonstrated tremendous improvement in the second half, allowing LC to just two completions and a mere 63 rushing yards while holding the Wildcats scoreless during the final two quarters. Early in the fourth quarter, the Cru logged back-to-back sacks, and Mueller also recovered a fumble on the UMHB 45-yard line.
“I’m really happy with the way we played today,” said Mueller postgame. “We never like when they score on us but this was the first time that we felt like we played all three aspects of the game, especially in the second half when we shut them out.”
Mueller noted how big of a role the coaches played in the defense’s phenomenal second half performance.
“We got to put it all on the coaches,” said Mueller. “What we do is we hustle around and we played for each other, but what those coaches do, Coach Harmon, Coach Fred, they get in there and thy work. They figure out what we need to do to hep us win as a team. We put a lot of trust in them, and they put a lot of trust in us to perform and hustle as hard as we can.”