BELTON, Texas- For 39 minutes on Saturday afternoon, UMHB’s defense was on the field. And for 39 minutes, the Crusaders held Belhaven scoreless. It was the kind of defensive effort UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg had been looking for from his defensive front for the majority of this season, and it came at an opportune time, as the Cru earned a 29-0 victory over the ASC’s top rushing attack.
Entering the contest, a major storyline surrounded the battle in the trenches, with Belhaven’s offensive line having helped the Blazers to three-straight 300+ yard rushing games, and the UMHB defense leading the ASC in fewest yards allowed.
Though the Crusaders did not completely stop Belhaven, through the air or on the ground, they forced the Blazers to punt it eight times, and turn it over on downs on two additional possessions. No matter what Belhaven tried, it did not work long-term, as the Cru limited their opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.3 percent.
“Although [the Belhaven offensive linemen] are good, and they are big, I thought our defense really played well,” Fredenburg said postgame.
Belhaven quarterback Mayowa Asagunla was the Blazers’ main offensive weapon throughout the contest, picking up yardage on several designed run plays and completing 15 of 27 passes for 137 yards. His 6’5, 224 lb frame was a force to be reckoned with as he ran upfield, though the Cru managed to sack him three times and forced him to throw just his second interception of the season.
“Their quarterback was the big threat, run or pass,” Fredneburg noted. “We had to put some pressure on him, and I thought our guys did a fantastic job.”
The Crusaders had a couple of offensive weapons of their own, including receiver KJ Miller, who tallied two receptions. The highlight of those two receptions, no doubt, was a 35-yard grab the 5’7 Miller made along the right sideline with the clock winding down in the second quarter. He managed to get his foot down inbounds, pulling down the pass overhead and setting up an Anthony Avila field goal, which gave UMHB a 10-0 lead at the half. It was the Cru’s longest passing play of the day.
“I was just trying to get some momentum for the team,” Miller said postgame of his 35-yard catch. “It was big for us.”
Miller also contributed to the victory in a big way on special teams, returning six punts for 144 yards. With Belhaven forced to punt often, and not purposely kicking it away from Miller like other teams have done this season, he set the offense up with great field position numerous times. His longest return went for 45 yards up the sideline before his momentum pulled him out of bounds.
“It felt good,” Miller said of his returns. “I really don’t get a lot of [opportunities to return] so I take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
Seizing opportunity was UMHB quarterback Ryan Redding, who started his first collegiate game. Kyle King, UMHB’s starter since week one, was held out due to a turf toe injury he suffered against Sul Ross State. In his place, Redding, a senior, rose to the ocassion, going eight of 20 passing for 114 yards and added 51 rushing yards. He scored the Cru’s first touchdown of the contest, as he sprinted through an opening on the right side of the line and into the end zone, giving UMHB a 7-0 lead with 8:08 in the opening quarter.
“I was ready to play,” Redding, who was the third-string quarterback two weeks ago, said postgame. “I was a little nervous since I hadn’t started a game here (since 2019), but once I got hit, I was fine.”
Though he had seen action sparingly early in the season, the New Braunfels, Texas native played the majority of the second half last week against Sul Ross, throwing for 201 yards. His awareness in the pocket might have been the most impressive aspect of his performance. Multiple times, he was able to escape the Belhaven pass rush and either find an open receiver or take off running upfield.
He told reporters postgame that he knew by Tuesday of this past week that he would be starting on Saturday.
“He’s really an outstanding player,” Fredenburg said of Redding. “This is going to do nothing but make him better and compliment our offense. He adds a little quickness and dimension that I think Kyle doesn’t have. He made some mistakes, but he’s going to learn from them.”
Redding was in agreeance, no matter what the future might hold for him at quarterback.
“Regardless of what happens after this, with me and Kyle, I think it made me ready to start, or ready to just be the best backup I can,” Redding told reporters. “I’m ready to step into whatever role that is.”
His next opportunity to start may be just seven days away, when UMHB hosts Howard Payne on Nov. 6. Fredenburg said postgame that he was unsure if King would be fully recovered by next week.
“He’s working on it,” Fredenburg said of King’s injury. “He’s sore but he’ll be back. I hope [he’ll be back next week] but I don’t know.”
Besides Redding’s touchdown run and Avila’s field goal, the Cru was quiet offensively in the first half, amassing just 129 yards of total offense. But three signficant gains from Redding on the ground late in the third quarter allowed running back Aphonso Thomas to score from one yard out on second and goal. That gave UMHB a 17-0 lead with 1:26 left in the third, and Thomas added to that advantage with his second touchdown of the day, this time from 11 yards out, with 8:30 in the fourth. Thomas led the Cru with 61 rushing yards on 11 carries.
“It was frusrating at first,” Redding said of UMHB’s limited offense in the first half. “But I think we all knew that at some point things were going to start to click, and they did, and it felt good.”
A four-yard score from running back Montana Miller with 2:05 remaining in the contest gave UMHB the 29-0 win, its second shutout of the season.
“I thought the defense really stood up and played,” Fredenburg said. “Anytime you get a shutout against anybody in this day and age, that’s pretty remarkable.”
The Crusaders host the regular season home finale against Howard Payne (6-2) next Saturday. HPU is on a two-game losing streak, having fallen to Hardin-Simmons 38-14 on Saturday afternoon in Brownwood. Kickoff for that contest has been set for 12 p.m. CT.