Behind solid defense, UMHB wins ASC opener over ETBU 34-14

Above photo: As part of Patriot Day and the remembering of Sept. 11, five military helicopters flew over Crusader Stadium just before kickoff after the national anthem was played.

BELTON, Texas- Facing a team that had thrown the ball 54 times in its season opener, the UMHB defense had little trouble against the pass in Saturday’s 34-14 victory, as ETBU was held to just 103 passing yards.

Playing tight coverage in the secondary forced the Tigers to use their run game more often than usual, a situation the Crusader defensive front gladly took advantage of, with three sacks and eight tackles for loss.

“We were ready to play,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “We did some things with our front, changed up the defense a little bit. It was really important that we established a great defense and I think they really did.”

Titus Dunk makes the tackle (Photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru)

While the stellar play of the UMHB defense kept ETBU at bay, the Crusaders used their own run game to grind out the win. With a knock-down, drag-out kind of attack, the Cru attempted just 12 passes, 15 fewer than in their week one victory over Simpson, as running back Aphonso Thomas tallied a team-high 99 rushing yards in his UMHB debut.

“I love it, I think he’s going to be a great player for us,” Fredenburg said of Thomas. “But I also think we’ve got three really capable running backs.”

Quarterback Kyle King added 87 additional yards on the ground, scoring his fifth rushing touchdown of the year from one yard out with 5:34 in the first quarter.

King, who played the majority of all four quarters, was equally stellar through the air, throwing for 145 yards. He completed 50 percent of his passes, going 6-for-12, but of those six completions, only one went for less than 23 yards. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, he connected with Brandon Jordan for a 23-yard reception, setting up an Anthony Avila field goal four plays later.

Avila’s field goal put UMHB on the board, and in the lead, with 12 minutes remaining in the opening quarter, just 75 seconds before safety Jefferson Fritz wove through ETBU’s punting unit to score the contest’s first touchdown. The senior safety, who also recovered a fumble, returned a punt 44 yards, racing down the far sideline behind several blockers.

Fritz was at the heart of UMHB’s defense, which stopped the Tigers from scoring on three occasions in the first half, despite ETBU reaching the UMHB 25-yard line each time. On the Tigers’ first drive of the second quarter, with the ball on the UMHB 13-yard line, Fritz forced and recovered a fumble by ETBU’s Cornelius Merchant, keeping the shutout intact. The same kind of intensity was seen on ETBU’s attempted passing plays.

“We anticipated a lot [of passing],” Fredenburg said. “I know [ETBU] had 19 attempts in the first half, but I think that they played really well and the defense rose to the occasion.”

Gary Ruckman puts UMHB up 24-0 (Photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru)

As the defense maintained a consistent approach to the Tigers’ offensive gameplan through the first half, holding ETBU scoreless, the Crusader offense mounted two additional scoring drives. The first, King’s one-yard score, put UMHB up 17-0, before tight end Gary Ruckman notched his first receiving touchdown of the year, pulling in a perfectly-placed 24-yard pass from King with 24 seconds until halftime.

Though the Cru added 10 points in the second half- the combination of an Avila field goal and a touchdown catch from Thomas- the storyline of the second half for UMHB came in the form of fumbles.

Backup quarterback Tommy Bowden lost his grip on the ball after taking his first snap of the game from the ETBU six-yard line, as the ETBU pass rush came upon him. Linebacker Chase Thompson picked up the loose ball and sprinted 86 yards to the end zone, scoring the Tigers’ first points of the contest.

Then, with 2:10 left in the game, running back Andrew Robinson was pushed back by ETBU’s defensive line, as Tiger linebacker Joey Johnson jarred the ball loose. It led to ETBU’s lone offensive touchdown of the day, which came with just eight seconds remaining and cut the deficit to 34-14.

“Quit fumbling,” Fredenburg said matter-of-factly, postgame, when asked what he would like to see fixed before facing Southwestern next week. “I want people in there that will hold onto the football. We’re going to get that taken care of.”

Facing ETBU certainly provided a tougher test than Simpson College did, and Fredenburg was encouraged by his team’s response. The Cru, though not without flaws, were solid in all facets of the game.

“It’s a great step,” Fredenburg told reporters. “I think we played really well at times on both sides of the ball. I’m really proud of the defense. We challenged them because they gave up so many points and yards last year [against ETBU].”

With Hardin-Simmons set to come to Belton in just two weeks for a Sept. 25 showdown, Fredenburg was asked, is UMHB ready for the Cowboys?

“No,” Fredenburg said. “We’re a ways, but we’re also moving in that direction.”

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