BELTON, Texas- The D-III playoffs have arrived for UMHB football, as the Crusaders look to begin the road to Canton, Ohio and the Stagg Bowl on Saturday.
The Cru hosts Trinity, ranked No. 16 in the nation by D3football.com and No. 14 by the American Football Coaches Association, in the first-round playoff matchup. Both teams are undefeated, coming off exceptional regular seasons, and are set to battle in what might be one of the more intriguing first-round games.
We break down the teams, touch on the storylines and bring you UMHB’s two-deep depth chart in this week’s playoff preview.
No. 16/14 Trinity (TX) at No. 2/2 UMHB
Date: Nov. 20
Place: Crusader Stadium, Belton, Texas
Time: 12:00 p.m. CT
About the opponent: Trinity Tigers
Head Coach: Jerheme Urban (8th season)
Conference: Southern Athletic Association
Season Record (overall/conf): 9-0, 7-0 (Notable results: at No. 19 Birmingham-Southern, W 28-27, vs Centre, W 27-7)
How they got here: Trinity is in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, having posted a perfect record this season, rolling to dominant non-conference wins over Macalester and Texas Lutheran to open the year before taking control of the SAA standings. The Tigers’ closest contest was a 28-27 win on the road at Birmingham-Southern, who received an at-large playoff bid. The Trinity defense stopped BSC’s two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter, then recovered the onside kick, sealing the Tigers’ lone Top 25 win of the year.
Names to know:
OFFENSE: So. RB Winston Hutchinson (447 rush yds, 4.6 yds/carry, 5 TD), Jr. QB Tucker Horn (185-of-261 passing, 2,283 pass yds, 33 TD, 1 INT, 70.9% completion rate), Jr. WR Ryan Merrifield (34 receptions, 419 receiving yds, 7 TD), Sr. WR Austin Bertness (29 receptions, 421 receiving yds, 8 TD)
DEFENSE: Jr. LB Caleb Harmel (54 total tackles, 28 solo tackles, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles), Sr. DE Campbell Miller (21 total tackles, 9 solo tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 pass breakups), Sr. DB Jeremy Irving (23 total tackles, 14 solo tackles, 2 INT), Sr. DE Michael Jewett (36 total tackles, 17 solo tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss), So. LB James Ogunrin (46 total tackles, 18 solo tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack)
National Offense Ranking (total yards of offense per game): No. 27 (456.2 YPG)
National Defense Ranking (total yards allowed per game): No. 2 (187.4 YPG)
About the UMHB Crusaders
Head Coach: Pete Fredenburg (23rd season)
Conference: American Southwest
Season Record (overall/conf): 10-0, 9-0 (Notable results: vs No. 10 Hardin-Simmons, W 34-28, vs Howard Payne, W 59-14, vs Belhaven, W 29-0)
How they got here: UMHB breezed through the regular season, opening up with an 84-6 victory in its lone non-conference game against Simpson College, before winning its 17th ASC title. The Crusaders’ closest game came at home on Sept. 27, when Hardin-Simmons posted a 28-7 halftime lead before UMHB rallied back to shut out the Cowboys in the second half and win 34-28.
Names to know:
OFFENSE: Sr. QB Kyle King (90-of-140 passing, 1,464 pass yds, 24 TD, 1 INT), Jr. RB Aphonso Thomas (752 rush yds, 6.3 yds/carry, 10 TD), Sr. WR KJ Miller (40 receptions, 594 receiving yds, 7 TD), Sr. WR Brandon Jordan (29 receptions, 561 receiving yards, 10 TD)
DEFENSE: Sr. LB Jacob Mueller (64 total tackles, 40 solo tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), Sr. LB Akeem Jackson (42 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1 INT), Sr. S Jefferson Fritz (38 total tackles, 27 solo tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 6 pass breakups), Sr. CB Keith Gipson (35 total tackles, 26 solo tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 4 INT)
National Offense Ranking (total yards of offense per game): No. 12 (492.5 YPG)
National Defense Ranking (total yards allowed per game): No. 8 (207.2 YPG)
UMHB and Trinity have a long history, as the two faced off in UMHB’s inaugural game in 1998, with the Tigers winning the duel 37-14. Trinity went on to win the next three meetings, the latter two coming in the 2001 and 2002 playoffs, before the Cru finally got its first victory over the Tigers. That win came in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, as UMHB earned a 32-13 win and eventually reached the Stagg Bowl. The Crusaders are 5-4 all-time against Trinity, having last faced the Tigers in 2013, when the two both played in the ASC.
Storylines to Watch:
Defensive battle: While both squads have tremendous offenses, do not be surprised if this game ends up low-scoring. Each team’s defense was stellar throughout the season, and both are currently ranked in the Top 10 in total defense (Trinity, No. 2 and UMHB, No. 8). The Tigers have been especially good against the pass, allowing an average of 118 passing yards per game, but the Crusaders are right behind them, at No. 4, having limited opposing offenses to just 124 passing yards per contest. Against the run, Trinity is also slightly ahead of UMHB at No. 14 nationally, having given up a mere 69 rushing yards per game. UMHB enters the contest No. 26 in the country, with 83 rushing yards per game. Bottom line, both defenses have repeatedly risen to the occasion and big plays offensively will not come easy in this matchup.
Efficient passing: With offense hard to come by, making the most of passing opportunities will be critical. Each squad boasts a reliable quarterback, as Trinity is led by Tucker Horn, while Kyle King guides the UMHB offense. Horn led the SAA in completion percentage this season (70.9 percent) and threw just one interception. King, who started last week at McMurry after missing the previous two games, makes his first start at Crusader Stadium since Oct. 16, and is second in the nation in passing efficiency (207.27). He has completed 64 percent of his passes.
Good field position dependent on punt returns: If the defenses play the way they have throughout this season, leading to plenty of punts, the punt returners for each team will have an opportunity to take center stage. UMHB’s KJ Miller not only leads the ASC in punt return yardage this season, but leads the nation in that category, with 578 return yards. Two of his 19 returns have resulted in touchdowns, and he averages 30.4 yards per return. Trinity also has a stellar retuner of its own in Chris Stewart, who ranks fifth in D-III with 18.6 yards per return. Field position is going to be critical in a game with two standout defenses, and that field position will depend in part on how the punt return units fare.
UMHB Two Deep Depth Chart
*-Team Captain, L-Varsity Letter, SQ- Previously on varsity roster in past season(s) but has seen no playing time, TR- Transfer
Quarterback: Kyle King (Sr.-1L), Ryan Redding (Sr.-3L),
Running Back: Aphonso Thomas (Jr.-1L), Kenneth Cormier Jr. (So.-1L)
Wide Receiver: Brenton Martin (Sr. 2L), Romello Cook (Sr.-1L)
Wide Receiver: KJ Miller (Sr.-2L), Jamaal Hamilton (Jr.-TR)
Wide Receiver: Brandon Jordan (Sr.-1L), DJ Weaver (Sr.-2L)
Tight End: *Gary Ruckman (Sr.-2L), Connor Mullins (So.-1L)
Left Tackle: Jesse Hoke (So.-1L), Hayes Chizer (So.-SQ)
Left Guard: Reuel Tandoh (So-1L), John Kazmierski (Sr.-2L)
Center: Jeffery Sims Jr. (Sr.-3L), Jacob Dailey (So.-1L)
Right Guard: Matt Sanders (Jr.-2L), Adam Dobbins (Sr.-SQ)
Right Tackle: Ethan Ruckman (So.-1L), Kyle Wente (Fr.-HS)
Left Defensive End: Sante Parker Jr. (Sr.-2L), E’Monte Smith (Sr.-4L)
Left Defensive Tackle: Pete Smith (Sr.-3L), Kobe Giles (So.-1L)
Right Defensive Tackle: Tristan Green (So.-1L), Josh Patteson (So.-1L),
Right Defensive End: Khevon Shepard (Sr.-4L), Caleb Johnson (Sr.-3L)
Weakside Linebacker: Jacob Mueller (Sr.-3L), Mikkah Hackett (Sr.-4L)
Middle Linebacker: Akeem Jackson (Sr.-4L), Durand Hill (Fr.-HS)
Strongside Linebacker: Omari Frazier (So.-1L), Jackson Sennie (So.-1L)
Cru (Flex Safety): Jayden Smith (Sr.-3L), Jordan See (So.-1L)
Free Safety: *Jefferson Fritz (Sr.-4L), Khryen Deal (Fr.-HS)
Cornerback: Titus Dunk (Jr.-2L), Tavion Page (Jr.-2L)
Cornerback: Keith Gipson (Sr.-3L), Chaka Watson (So.-1L)
Kicker: Brandon Cunningham (Jr.-2L), Anthony Avila (Sr.-3L)
Punter: *Jefferson Fritz (Sr.-4L), Brandon Cunningham (Jr.-2L)
Punt Returner: *Jefferson Fritz (Sr.-4L), KJ Miller (Sr.-2L)
Kick Returner: Aaron Sims (Sr.-1L), KJ Miller (Sr.-2L)
Long Snapper: Jacob Mueller (Sr.-3L)
Holder: Tommy Bowden (Jr.-2L), Ryan Redding (Sr.-3L)