Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- For just the second time during this regular season, the UMHB football team found itself trailing in a contest, as Howard Payne tallied touchdowns on its first two drives to go up 14-0 on Saturday afternoon.
But the response from the Crusader defense ended up as one of the main storylines, as UMHB held the Yellow Jackets scoreless for the rest of the contest, and the offense gained traction en route to a 59-14 victory.
At his press conference on Monday, UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg was asked about his impressions of the defense’s response to the early deficit, especially as the Cru looks ahead to the playoffs, set to begin Nov. 20.
“There was a tremendous shell shock,” Fredenburg said of HPU’s first two possessions. “We knew that they could throw the ball well and had good receivers. I didn’t think they would challenge Fritz like they did.”
UMHB safety Jefferson Fritz was beat on both touchdown passes, something Fredenburg said both postgame and on Monday, can be attributed to Fritz’s desire to help out the rest of the defense, even if it means leaving his position.
“Jefferson has a tendency to want to do too much,” Fredenburg said. “He wants to support the run as well as the pass. He just caught a little bit that way. The second one, the safety was protecting the corner route and he should have been protecting the middle of the field.”
Fredenburg noted that the start to Saturday’s game was seen as an opportunity to learn and grow, especially for a defense that has been seldom challenged this season.
“It was a great learning process for him, and it was great for our football team to maintain their composure and come back like we did,” Fredenburg said. “It says a lot.”
The victory made something official that those in the world of D-III football had already known for quite some time: UMHB is headed back to the playoffs.
The Cru also clinched a share of the ASC title in the win. Fredenburg was asked on Monday if knowing that will affect his strategy entering Saturday’s regular season finale at McMurry. In other words, is he planning to play the backups more than usual, and try to save his starters for the playoffs?
“Our strategy is that we just want to win the game,” Fredenburg replied. “We want to make sure of that first and foremost. We will enjoy the last regular season game and get ready to move into the playoffs.”
Ryan Redding has started the last two games at quarterback for the Cru, putting together a much-improved performance against Howard Payne, going 21-for-28 passing. He tallied four touchdowns, and led the Cru in rushing yards with 98. His awareness in the pocket has been impressive, and he has stepped into the starting role rather easily, considering he was a third-team quarterback as recently as last month.
“I thought he played well,” Fredenburg said of Redding’s performance. “We gave him the game ball. His passing stats were incredible. He ran the ball well. He executed the option well. I think Ryan took a huge step forward. Really makes us realize we got two good quarterbacks who can go win a ballgame for us.”
Redding has been starting in place of Kyle King, who started UMHB’s first seven games. King suffered a turf-toe injury against Sul Ross State, but was close to full health entering Saturday’s win over HPU, Fredenburg added.
“He could’ve played Saturday, we just held him out,” Fredenburg said. “He’s not 100 percent, but he’s real close.”
At the right tackle position, both Ethan Ruckman and Wyatt Crawford have been sidelined with injury at different points this season. Ruckman eased back into action after a right ankle injury, playing 20 snaps on Saturday, while Crawford exited the game and later came back out on crutches. But Fredenburg expressed confidence in Ruckman’s ability to return to his starting role against McMurry.
“Ethan came in and played about 20 snaps and I think he’ll be fine,” Fredenburg said. “We will shuffle them around, but Ethan will probably start [at right tackle].”
Already holding a playoff spot, share of the conference title and a No. 2 national ranking in both the D3football.com and AFCA polls, Fredenburg noted that there could be a “temptation” to overlook McMurry, 2-6 on the year. But that is not the way UMHB approaches a contest against any opponent.
“There’s always things that you can work on to get better,” Fredenburg said. “There’s also a temptation to just relax in that you’ve got McMurry who doesn’t have a great win-loss record and we’re at the end of our season and getting ready for the playoffs. The reality is that I think this is when we need to push the accelerator and try to get everybody playing extremely well as we move into the latter stages of our season.”