Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru
BELTON, Texas- Just as predicted, the rain came falling minutes after kickoff on Saturday afternoon at Crusader Stadium. And combined with 50-degree temperatures, made for a less-than-ideal environment for the second-round playoff matchup between UMHB and Birmingham-Southern, a contest UMHB won 42-7, setting up a quarterfinal matchup against Linfield on Dec. 4.
But the weather conditions have been something UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg has learned to enjoy, as his Crusaders have ventured deep into the D-III playoffs in each of the last several seasons. Snow, rain, and cold temperatures are just part of what defines the playoffs.
“You get into the playoffs and the weather is impactful,” Fredenburg said following the victory. “You love every minute of it. Rain, snow, whatever. You’re deep into the playoffs. That’s what we do this for, to get into those situations and those environments. You’ve got to relish the opportunities.”
Fredenburg’s team certainly did that on Saturday afternoon, with 450 yards of total offense, compared to BSC’s 243. A large amount of that yardage was attributed to senior quarterback Ryan Redding. In the first playoff start of his career, Redding rose to the occasion, completing 14 of 23 passes for 251 yards and three scores, and added 55 rushing yards.
“It’s a lot different,” Redding remarked of starting a playoff game, as compared to the regular season. “I obviously haven’t started [a playoff game] since being here for four years. I’ve gotten to play behind some guys, so I felt like I was pretty prepared just watching.”
Redding said he did not learn that he would be starting until Thursday, as Kyle King had started the last two contests and was listed as the starter on this week’s two-deep depth chart. When asked postgame about the decision to start Redding, Fredenburg cited a multitude of reasons.
“Kyle has been losing sleep and we just felt like, with the combination of everything [Redding might be the best one to start],” Fredenburg said. “Plus, Ryan deserves it. He really performed well in the two games he had played.”
Redding settled in quickly, finding Brandon Jordan for a 16-yard gain on the Cru’s first play from scrimmage. After Redding was tackled behind the line of scrimmage on third down, UMHB was forced to end its first possession with a punt, but got on the board just five minutes later. Redding found receiver KJ Miller wide open in the left side of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown pass at the 7:40 mark, giving the Cru an early 7-0 lead.
“Normally, once you get hit once, you settle down a little bit,” Redding said. “But today I was pretty comfortable, for whatever the reason.”
Whatever it was, Redding put together one of the best performances of his collegiate career, finding Miller once again on UMHB’s next drive for a six-yard touchdown pass on a slant route. It gave UMHB a lead it protected for the remainder of the contest, and was critical, considering the Crusaders’ previous lead had lasted for all of 13 seconds.
On the kickoff that followed Miller’s first touchdown reception, BSC defensive back and returner DJ Albright issued a quick response, taking the kick 89 yards up the far sideline and into the end zone, tying the score at 7-7. It turned out to be the only scoring for the Panthers in the contest, as UMHB’s defense contained the run and limited the BSC passing game to just 11 completions.
“We felt good about our plan, still feel good about our plan,” BSC head coach Tony Joe White said postgame. “It came down to individual matchups. We had angles we wanted and the scheme was fine. But you have to win the block, and I don’t know that we did that well enough.”
Jefferson Fritz led the Cru defense, tallying seven tackles, six of which were solo, and a key interception that led to UMHB’s third touchdown of the day. On Fritz’s interception, which came at the 7:52 mark of the second quarter, he read the eyes of BSC quarterback Trey Patterson and stepped in front of the intended receiver for his first interception of the season. A 17-yard return to the BSC seven-yard line followed, setting up Kenneth Cormier’s rushing touchdown 37 seconds later.
Cormier ran for the first time this season out of a wildcat formation in the backfield on the second-and-goal play, and sprinted into the end zone for the first of his two rushing scores. His performance, especially in the rain, where holding onto the football is more difficult, was notable.
“I think he’s a premier running back,” Fredenburg said of Cormier. “He’s incredibly physical, tough and he holds onto the football.”
Cormier’s score gave UMHB a 21-7 lead at the half, and he added another from one-yard out with 3:26 in the third quarter to extend the advantage even more, to 28-7.
Throughout the contest, it was clear that the Crusaders did not pump the breaks at any point. Understanding the overall talent on BSC’s roster, along with the narrow 13-3 win over Trinity last week fresh on their minds, they consistently put pressure on Patterson and held All-American running back Robert Shufford to 60 yards on 10 carries.
“They had three really good backs,” Fritz said postgame. “We knew coming into the game they were going to try to run the ball and with it raining, they were definitely going to try to run it even more.
“I think our defense did a really good job of running to the football. That’s our mentality on defense, to get 11 people to the football and really swarm them. That’s what you have to do to get those really good backs down.”
Getting set to face a Linfield team that upset Saint John’s, the regional’s No. 1 seed, 31-28 on Saturday, maintaining the intensity on both sides of the ball will be important.
“It was one of their best [days] of the year,” Fredenburg said of the UMHB defensive line, which sacked Patterson four times. “I think we’ll actually get better from this. They’re very talented and really play well together and really work hard at it.”
He noted the impact the Trinity victory had on the team, describing it as “a wake-up call”. Consistency from the entire program has played a role in keeping UMHB a constant force in the postseason, and that begins with the preparation and mentality in the days leading up to the game.
“I think last week did a lot for our football team,” Fredenburg said. “You have to realize how fragile this existence is. And how quickly things can change. I believe [the Trinity game] was a little bit of a wake-up call for us. It made us all keenly aware of how fragile this is.
“Going into this ballgame, we didn’t have much knowledge of them, other than the running back and quarterback. Our guys came to work on Tuesday. I went in one time, and Fritz had the whole secondary in there. It was like [defensive coordinator] Larry Harmon running the program. That’s what it takes.”
Brandon Jordan finished as UMHB’s leading receiver, with three catches for 101 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown reception with 13:30 in the fourth quarter, to give UMHB a 35-7 advantage. Aphonso Thomas’ 15-yard score capped the Cru’s scoring six minutes later, securing the win.
A location for next week’s game against Linfield has not yet been determined. The Wildcats are 11-0 on the year.
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked as a sportswriter since 2016 and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.