Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- UMHB’s history against Trinity (TX) on the gridiron is extensive to say the least.
The two programs, separated by just 138 miles, have met on nine occasions. The Tigers were the first team UMHB ever faced, as the two squared off in San Antonio to begin the Cru’s inaugural season in 1998. That contest ended in a 37-14 loss for the Crusaders, as did the next three meetings, the later two of which were contested in the playoffs. UMHB’s first playoff opponent in program history was Trinity in 2001. And the Crusaders’ first playoff win came in 2004 against…you guessed it, Trinity.
“We had a really hard time beating Trinity in the playoffs,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg noted at Monday’s press conference. “We finally achieved that in 2004. I think this will be a great matchup between two teams who are in Texas and recruit against each other and all of those things. It will be a fun game.”
The two opponents are set to meet again, for the first time since 2013, in the first round of the D-III Football Playoffs on Nov. 20. That contest is set for noon in Belton, and pits Trinity, the Southern Athletic Association champ, against UMHB, the American Southwest Conference champ. Not to mention both programs are undefeated, UMHB at 10-0 and the Tigers at 9-0.
“I think Jerheme Urban, their head football coach, has done a great job,” Fredenburg said of Trinity. “We are very excited about Trinity coming here and having the opportunity to play them again.”
Looking back on the playoff success of the Cru, who have won at least one playoff game in each of the last 14 seasons (including the 2016 and 2017 season, whose wins have since been vacated), the 32-13 win at Trinity, on Nov. 20, the same date as this year’s contest is set to be played, laid the foundation. That win ignited a spark inside of the team, who had gone 9-1 in the regular season, as UMHB finished as the runners-up to Linfield, falling 28-21 in the national title game.
“The 2004 year was just magical,” Fredenburg said. “The thing that’s amazing is that we didn’t win the conference. We got beat pretty handily by Hardin-Simmons early in the year. It was one of the most meaningful experiences for me in my coaching career because right after that ballgame of Hardin-Simmons, we came together as a team. Our meeting room at that time was the weight room. We went into the weight room as soon as we got back from the game and really had a soul-searching discussion which kind of changed the dynamics of our program and the expectations here.
“So we went and played Trinity in the first round, who we had never beaten. We won that game, then we went back to Abilene and played Hardin-Simmons and beat them in the second round. Then we ended up beating Mount Union and going to the Stagg Bowl. We really had a great opportunity to win that game. If we had had a little more experience we probably would have. But that started the expectations of this program. So that really solidified a lot of things about our program.”
Unlike that 2004 run, UMHB will begin its time in the 2021 playoffs at Crusader Stadium on Saturday. Having that home field advantage, especially considering the excellent weather conditions in the Lone Star State, is critical in the postseason.
“It matters a lot,” Fredenburg said of home field advantage. “Just because you’re in front of your home crowd, and it’s the comfort of being home. Obviously, the weather also factors in somewhat because being in Texas we are used to this.”
The Crusaders enter the postseason in top form, coming off a 77-3 win at McMurry last Saturday to cap off a perfect 10-0 regular season. In addition, quarterback Kyle King was 9-of-17 passing for 154 yards and three scores, in his return to the field after missing the previous two games with a turf toe injury.
“I thought Kyle really played well,” Fredenburg said. “He was chomping at the bit to get back in, even last week. I think against McMurry, we probably played our best game on both sides of the ball, as far as executing our offense and defense. It’s a good place for us to be right now.
“There’s obviously work that needs to be done and some improvements we need to make as we put together our game plan against Trinity, but by and large we were pleased with our performance and made sure that we tried to eliminate some penalties. I felt good about that.”
For both Fredenburg and his Crusaders, playoff preparation has been a long time coming. After being eliminated in the 2019 quarterfinals in a 26-7 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater in Belton, the 2020 playoffs were canceled due to COVID-19, meaning when UMHB takes the field on Saturday, it will have been 713 days since the Cru’s last playoff game.
“We have been waiting,” Fredenburg noted. “It is exciting to be in the playoffs and back in the regular routine of getting our guys ready to play. You’ve got to rise to a different level of performance because if you don’t play well, you put your equipment up. We know there’s a different level of play and a different level of expectation. It’s really rewarding and very exciting.”
Riley Zayas serves as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked in sports journalism since 2016 and can be contacted at email@example.com.