Above photo by Luke C. Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- It was not the finest start, nor the finest end to the first half in Saturday afternoon’s 59-14 victory for UMHB over Howard Payne, but the Crusaders found a way to get the job done, holding a three-score lead by the second quarter’s end.
That lead ballooned into a 45-point advantage by the fourth quarter, as UMHB pulled away in the regular season home finale, clinching the ASC title and an NCAA Tournament berth. But that is far from the way it started, as the first five minutes of the contest had the makings of a big-time upset in Belton.
HPU ran a flea-flicker on the game’s first play from scrimmage, as Yellow Jacket quarterback Landon McKinney found slot receiver Jake Parker racing deep towards the end zone. The pass was completed over the UMHB secondary, as the visitors from Brownwood took little time, 13 seconds in fact, to mount a 7-0 lead.
Parlaying that momentum, HPU’s defense forced a three-and-out on UMHB’s first possession, and promptly turned that stop into another score. The Yellow Jackets’ first three plays yielded two first downs, and McKinney’s second completion went for a second touchdown to Parker, who pulled the pass in near the back half of the end zone.
“[Jefferson Fritz] is always trying to do everything,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said of the two early HPU touchdowns. “So they do a fake run, and what does he do? Go help the run. Then they get behind him. The next one the guys runs a corner route, and it wasn’t even his route, but he goes to help the corner and they get the post behind him.”
That was all the scoring HPU did all afternoon, however. The Crusader defense flipped a switch on HPU’s third drive, forcing a punt, and then the offense took control.
“I think we just came out slow,” UMHB quarterback Ryan Redding said. “I can’t really say there’s any one thing that did it. Everything just started to click for some reason. We kept our composure and we knew that we’d pick it up eventually.”
With Redding starting at quarterback in place of the injured Kyle King for the second straight contest, Fredenburg had said on Monday that he thought the senior’s confidence would be improved after leading the Cru to a 29-0 win over Belhaven last week. That proved to be the case, as he went 10-of-12 passing in the opening quarter, for 156 yards.
He found Brandon Jordan from 26 yards out, narrowly avoiding a sack, with 6:12 in the first quarter, cutting the deficit to a single touchdown. The following drive, the Cru tied it, on Aphonso Thomas’ four-yard run, and then took the lead minutes later, when Kenneth Cormier took the handoff and pushed his way across the goal line, for the 21-14 lead.
That score came with 20 seconds left in the first, and from that point on, UMHB controlled the game.
The Yellow Jackets tallied a total of just six first-half first downs and were shutout for the final three quarters. Aside from the first two possessions, HPU was held to just 210 total yards of offense. That defensive effort was widespread, with five Crusaders tallying at least five tackles. Linebacker Jacob Mueller had a team-high eight tackles, four of which were solo.
“It’s so important that we do that,” Fredenburg said of the team effort on defense. “The bonding and chemistry of the team is so incredibly important. Wins like this obviously help that.”
The conclusion of the first half did not come without a hint of chaos, however, even with UMHB leading 35-14 by that point. After Redding completed a 22-yard pass to KJ Miller on the half’s final play, an altercation ensued. Miller was shoved by multiple Yellow Jacket defenders into the HPU sideline, and a fight broke out, with both sidelines clearing and unsportsmanlike penalties called against both teams. It took several minutes for a call to be made by the officials.
“It was so bad, what they did to KJ,” Fredenburg said. “Everybody went over there and tried to break it up, but they just kept going.
“It was crazy how it was handled. The officials came out and finally got it worked out. I think [HPU] was trying really hard to prove a point, that they weren’t going to be intimidated.”
Fredenburg noted postgame that he had kept his team on the field for several minutes after HPU headed to the locker room, as officials worked to make a ruling. The Cru should have been awarded an untimed down, but the decision was made to assess the penalty on the second half kickoff.
“We should’ve had an untimed down,” Fredenburg told reporters. “That’s what they had decided, but then they ultimately finally decided, let’s go cool off and give them a 15 yard penalty.”
The fact that both teams were awarded unsportsmanlike conduct penalties meant that any player on either side who picked up a second such foul would automatically be ejected from the contest. That was something Fredenburg said he and the coaching staff made the team well aware of at halftime.
For all the fireworks that preceded halftime, nothing of the sort occured in the second half, though the Cru further added to its advantage. UMHB tallied 14 points in the third quarter, as Thomas capped a six-play, 50-yard drive to open the second half with an eight-yard score. The running game accounted for all three of the Crusaders’ second half touchdowns, as Cormier added his second score of the day with 8:22 in the third from six yards out.
Redding added the final touchdown of the contest, breaking three tackles as he rolled out of the pocket and sprinted to his left, putting the Cru up 56-14 with 10:34 in the fourth. Four players rushed for at least 38 yards in the contest, and Redding led them with 98. He added two scores on the ground in addition to his two through the air, posting a 21-of-28 passing day that accounted for 307 yards.
“I think a lot of it was just timing, getting the timing down,” Redding said postgame. “This week, I had a lot more confidence. I had guys behind me like Kyle [King], who is probably one of our biggest guys on the sideline rooting for me the whole time. It made it easy to come out here and get the ball to some playmakers.”
One of those “playmakers” was Miller, who led the Cru with a UMHB single-game record 12 receptions. The wideout tallied 165 yards, 99 of which came after the catch. Though he did not record a touchdown, he put the Cru in a position to score on multiple occasions, including consecutive catches late in the first, as he got the ball to the HPU eight yard line. That led to the go-ahead score from Cormier. Additionally, he tallied a 41-yard completion to Brenton Martin in the second quarter on a trick play.
“He’s probably the best receiver I’ve ever watched,” Redding said of Miller. “It’s awesome to throw to him and all the other guys. Our receiving corps is stacked.”
That receiving corps accounted for 348 yards through the air, and contributed to 616 total yards of offense.
UMHB hits the road for a contest against McMurry next Saturday, with a 1 p.m. CT kickoff.