BELTON, Texas- The last time UMHB and Hardin-Simmons faced off at Crusader Stadium, it took a late field goal from Anthony Avila to win the game for the Cru. On Saturday night, the No. 2 Crusaders needed another heroic feat just as badly.
And they found their hero with less than 40 seconds to play, as defensive back Jayden Smith made the play of the game, intercepting a pass at the UMHB two-yard line to end Hardin-Simmons’ final drive and hand the Crusaders an improbable 34-28 victory.
“I saw [HSU quarterback Kyle Jones] looking at [the] No. 1 [receiver] on my side, so I just stayed there, he looked him the whole way down, and I caught it,” Smith said. “I just went for it.”
UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg brightened when asked about Smith’s key play, which was Hardin-Simmons’ lone turnover of the contest.
“Well, it was the ballgame.” Fredenburg said. “It changed the whole ballgame.”
In a tale of two halves, the Crusaders tallied just 135 yards of total offense in the first two quarters, trailing 28-7, but came out of the locker room with a vengeance, mounting an inspiring comeback.
UMHB found its footing in the form of a belief. A belief that they were down, but not out .
“We knew we could score,” Smith said postgame, noting that the Crusaders never doubted their ability to make a comeback. “We have a bunch of playmakers on offense. Our defense is good. We trusted our guys.”
For Fredenburg, the question to his team at halftime was simple: Is this going to make us or break us?
“We stayed real calm at halftime,” Fredenburg said postgame. “I said, ‘Guys, this is either going to make us or break us’. Obviously it made us.”
UMHB quarterback Kyle King led the Cru downfield on its first possession of the second half, finding receiver Brandon Jordan for the nine-yard score. That was just the beginning.
As UMHB’s passing game came together, touchdowns to tight end Connor Mullins and receiver Romello Cook soon followed, knotting the score at 28 as the third quarter drew to a close.
The Crusader offense not only came together, but was supported by the defense, who shut out the high-octane HSU offense in the second half. The halftime adjustments made by the coaching staff paid dividends for UMHB, stopping the Cowboys rushing attack.
“We had to read the middle of the blocking scheme defensively,” Fredenburg said of his team’s halftime adjustments. “Once they got comfortable with that, we were fine. They did not hurt us running the ball in the second half.”
HSU’s running game was a key part of the Cowboys’ 21-point second quarter, as they took a commanding 28-7 lead at halftime. On the first play of that quarter, HSU running back Kolby Youngblood sprinted 33 yards untouched through a gaping hole on the left side of the offensive line, putting the visitors from Abilene in the lead, 14-7. A 24-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Kevi Evans put HSU in front by two scores less than two minutes later. And to cap off the first-half scoring, Cowboy running back Myles Featherston was initially hit at the line, but not brought down, as he raced away from the defenders for a 65-yard touchdown.
Those two rushing touchdowns, along with Gaylon Glynn’s seven-yard carry in the first quarter to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead, accounted for 105 of HSU’s 183 first-half rushing yards.
“[HSU] was doing a nice job of doing some things that we felt like they were going to do, but we couldn’t come back from it,” Fredenburg said.
In the second half, all of that changed, as the Crusader defense rose to the occasion. Though HSU picked up four first downs on its final possession, UMHB remained in the fight, forcing the Cowboys to use precious time with limited gains.
What gave the UMHB defense a lead to protect was the result of the Cru’s second-to-last drive of the contest; a five-play, 80 yard drive that featured two Jordan receptions. King found the 6’6 receiver down the sideline for a 28-yard gain to put UMHB in the red zone. The duo connected again, one play later, as Jordan made a leaping catch for his second touchdown of the contest from 14 yards out. For a player who was held out of the Southwestern victory with an upper-body injury, it was a memorable return to the gridiron.
“Brandon Jordan put on a show,” Fredenburg said. “No question about it.”
Jordan finished the contest as UMHB’s leading receiver, with six receptions for 101 yards. King, who was 10-for-13 passing the second half, threw for 208 yards and five touchdowns.
Thinking back, Fredenburg noted that he cannot remember a comeback in the program’s 23-year history that bested the Crusaders’ performance on Saturday night.
“I don’t ever remember a comeback of such proportions,” Fredenburg said, “because we were getting physically whipped and we had to come back and change that.”
UMHB, now 4-0, gets set to face Austin College (1-2) in Sherman, Texas on Oct. 2.
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