BELTON, Texas- Saturday night’s season opener between top-ranked UMHB and Simpson College began with a huge hit from the Cru’s Akeem Jackson for a four-yard loss.
From that point on, the intensity level never wavered, setting the tone as the Cru took control early and rode into the sunset, defeating the Storm 84-6.
“It felt great [to be back on the field] and it’s astonishing we executed as well as we did with all the different levels, we got everybody in,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenberg said postgame. “It was really an outstanding effort from our team. Obviously they were not as good as we were but it was important that our guys go out and concentrate and execute.”
Following Jackson’s game-opening tackle, Simpson struggled to piece together an offensive drive, held to two yards of total offense in the first quarter and a mere 146 for the game.
“Yes,” Fredenburg said when asked if Jackson’s tackle set the tone early on. “Akeem is kind of the guy that is the bell cow of our defense.”
The UMHB defensive line had little trouble getting into the backfield, as the opposing offensive line struggled to contain the three-man rush, not to mention the blitzes that were prevalent throughout the first half.
Said Fredenburg: “We really want to try to be able to stop the run, so that’s what’s been [behind] the effort.”
While the defense lived up to expectations, suffocating Simpson’s offense, the Crusaders answered multiple questions when it came to their own offense, which had struggled at times during the five-game spring campaign.
“It’ll be a lot of learning from the video but I do think we’re a little further ahead than we have been, offensively especially, so I’m proud of that,” Fredenburg said.
Kyle King solidified his role as the starting quarterback, going 14-for-19 passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a little over one half of action. But where he set himself apart was in the running game, tallying four touchdowns and finishing the first half as the team’s leading rusher with 43 yards.
“He’s taking what the defense gives him,” Fredenburg said of King. “He does a great job of executing the offense.”
King capped off UMHB’s opening drive with a 16-yard score, keeping it himself as he rolled out of the pocket and dove into the end zone. The short, two-play possession was made possible by an incredible special teams play from receiver Brandon Jordan, who sprinted at Simpson punter Mason Ackerson and blocked the attempted kick. It set UMHB up in the red zone on the 20 yard line, and was not the last time Jordan was at the center of the spotlight.
In the first half alone, Jordan totaled four receptions for 100 yards, and had two leaping catches one of which scored the Cru’s fourth touchdown of the day with 3:54 in the opening quarter. His 6’6 frame provided a great target for UMHB’s quarterbacks, especially against Simpson’s cornerbacks, none of whom were listed at over 6’1 in height.
Jordan scored oncemore in the second half, as King found him on UMHB’s first possession of the third quarter wide-open in the back corner of the end zone, making the score 49-0.
When it came to UMHB running game, Montana Miller and Kenneth Comier each saw a significant number of snaps, powering upfield behind the offensive line. Cormier finished as the team’s leading rusher, with 69 yards on 12 attempts, and Miller tallied 42 yards on three carries. But the longest run of the day came from senior quarterback Ryan Redding, whose 63-yard sprint ended in the end zone, with the Cru extending its lead to 84-6. Redding’s late score helped UMHB break the ASC record for rushing touchdowns in a game, with 10.
The second half was much of the same for the UMHB defense, whose only low point of the day was allowing the Storm to get on the board on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Reed Worth, briefly making the score 56-6 in the third quarter, after the PAT was blocked. Even with many of the second and third-stringers seeing action late, the Crusaders still put immense pressure on the Simpson offensive line. To open what turned out to be a scoreless fourth quarter, freshman linebacker Mason Young got to to Simpson running back Desmo Alexander in the backfield, recording his first collegiate tackle. Minutes before, sophomore defensive back Jackson Sennie intercepted a pass from Howard, returning it up the sideline for what would have been a pick-six had a block in the back not occurred.
A look at the final statistics reveals just how special the Crusader defense was: -9 yards rushing on 31 attempts, 11-of-28 passing, and just nine first downs for Simpson.
While the impact of the defense and the perennial play of the offense cannot be overstated, special teams played no small role in the victory. Returner Aaron Sims made his presence known in the first quarter, with a 54-yard punt return that led to King’s third rushing touchdown of the day. Safety Jefferson Frtiz managed a 21 yard punt return even though he lost a shoe. And Anthony Avila was 12-for-12 on extra points. Doing the little things right paid big dividends for the Cru, especially when it came to field position.
“That was great,’ Fredneburg said, “[Our special teams units] are just going to keep getting better and better, I think.”
Past history suggests that season-opening wins of this magnitiude are postive signs of what is to come. In 2018, the Cru hosted Albright College with a similar result, 91-7. And in December, UMHB captured the national title.
“That would be nice,” Fredenburg said with a laugh when asked if this win might be a sign of postseason success.
While Simpson’s talent level was well below that of UMHB’s, the Cru won’t have to wait long for a tougher test; East Texas Baptist, fresh off a 37-31 road win at Wisconsin-Platteville, comes to Belton for a 6:00 p.m. contest on Sept. 11.
“We always enjoy playing in the conference,” Fredenburg said postgame as the band belted out the UMHB fight song. “That’s another big game, so we will enjoy it and get ready and see what happens.”