GEORGETOWN, Texas- It took just three plays, and UMHB had the lead. A lead they had little trouble defending for the game’s entirety, as the Cru defeated Southwestern 54-3 on Saturday night under the lights of Birkelbach Stadium.
In their first road contest, the Crusaders played unfazed, as quarterback Kyle King found receiver KJ Miller wide open along the right sideline for a 71-yard touchdown just 41 seconds into the game, giving UMHB a 7-0 lead.
Making his first appearance of the season, Miller was King’s top target, pulling in five receptions in the first half for 117 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown catch, with 5:37 remaining in the second quarter, saw the 5’7, 170 lb Miller go up and over the Southwestern defender as he pulled down the 19-yard pass on the left side of the end zone.
“I think he’s outstanding,” UMHB head coach Fredenburg said of Miller postgame. “I have always felt like he is a great player. We continue to try to get the ball in his hands, because once he catches it, there’s no telling what is going to happen from there.”
The King-Miller connection continued into the second half, as the receiver caught two consecutive passes on the Cru’s first drive of the third quarter, setting up a six-yard rushing touchdown from Aphonso Thomas. It was the first rushing touchdown of the season for Thomas, who amassed 66 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the Crusaders made a similar statement early in the opening quarter, with a six-man rush on Southwestern’s first play from scrimmage. Pirates quarterback Landry Gilpin had nowhere to go as E’Monte Smith and Marc Gutierrez closed in for the sack.
“[Southwestern] started out in any empty formation,” Fredenburg said. “One of the things we do on an empty formation is we’ll rush one more than they can block. Obviously it makes the quarterback have to deliver the ball fast. It worked well and they finally got out of it.”
Entering the contest, one of the main storylines was UMHB’s defense, which had shown room to improve in last week’s 34-14 win over ETBU. The majority of the Cru’s starters played just a little over two quarters of action, allowing the Pirates 85 yards of total offense on 29 plays in the first half. Fredenburg was encouraged by his defense’s pass rush, especially with several changes in the depth chart.
“I think they did an amazing job,” Fredenburg said of his team’s pass defense. “I think our pass rush is getting better and the defense played really hard and well, and they responded to a lot of adversity because we had some guys out.”
One new addition to the defense was sophomore Chaka Watson, previously a wide receiver who saw action as a backup cornerback. Watson was responsible for the second of UMHB’s two interceptions, getting in front of the intended receiver as he made a leaping catch with 8:06 in the third quarter.
The first of the Cru’s interceptions also yielded its third touchdown, as defensive tackle Josh Patteson got his hands on a tipped pass, returning it 14 yards for the score with 1:15 in the first quarter.
The heads-up play of the defense resulted in few miscues, with Southwestern posting seven first downs, two of which came on the Pirates’ only scoring drive of the night. A 39-yard field goal from Will Herbst cut the score to 14-3 with 4:10 in the first quarter, but was all the Pirate offense mustered. UMHB also held Southwestern to a 36-percent third down conversion rate.
Statistically, King was 11-of-18 passing for 246 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He added two additional scores on the ground, and backup quarterback Tommy Bowden added another, racing to the outside and 84 yards down the sideline to extend the lead to 54-3 early in the fourth.
Miller finished as UMHB’s leading receiver, with seven catches for 179 yards.
Linebacker Jacob Mueller led the Crusader defense with six tackles, five of which were solo, and two for loss.
The victory moved UMHB to 2-0 in ASC play, and 3-0 on the season, setting up a contest of unbeatens that will attract attention from across the country. Next Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Crusaders host Hardin-Simmons, the nation’s No. 7 team. Undoubtedly the biggest rivalry on the Cru’s regular season schedule, tonight’s win in Georgetown will only add to their momentum.
“We always have a big game against Hardin-Simmons, it’s a big rival game,” Fredenburg said postgame. “Obviously anything that gets us prepared to go into that game with a good feeling is very important.”