Playoff Preview: No. 7 Linfield at No. 2 UMHB

BELTON, Texas- The road to the Stagg Bowl continues on Saturday for UMHB and Linfield, both top-10 teams in the most recent rankings from D3football.com, which were done prior to the first round of the playoffs. This must-see matchup in Belton will decide who faces the winner of Saturday’s contest between Wisconsin-Whitewater and Central next weekend.

No. 7 Linfield at No. 2 UMHB
Date: Dec. 4

Place: Crusader Stadium, Belton, Texas

Time: 12 p.m. CT

Streaming: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/umhb/

READ: Rivalry renewed: UMHB and Linfield set to meet in quarterfinal matchup

READ: Linfield ready to “rise to the challenge” in matchup with UMHB

READ: From D3football.com: UMHB Quarterbacks Feature

About the opponent: Linfield Wildcats

Head Coach: Joseph Smith (16th Season)

Conference: Northwest Conference

Location: McMinnville, Oregon

Season Record (overall/conf): 11-0, 9-0 (Notable results: vs Whitworth, W 42-7, at Redlands, W 51-10, vs Redlands, W 44-10, at Saint John’s, W 31-28)

How they got here: The Wildcats were the class of the field in the NWC, posting a 9-0 conference record, as well as victories over Simon Fraser and Redlands in non-conference action. The ‘Cats battled Redlands once more in the first round of the playoffs, and like the first meeting, won by a significant margin, 44-10. Head coach Joseph Smith’s team then went on the road and took down Saint John’s, an accomplished program, by a score of 31-28. 

Names to know: 

OFFENSE: Sr. QB Wyatt Smith (273-for-391 passing, 3,275 pass yds, 46 total TD, 4 INT), So. RB Connor McNabb (657 rush yds, 9 TD, 5.5 yds/carry), So. RB Connor Morton (565 rush yds, 6 TD, 5.7 yds.carry, So. WR Joel Valadez (46 receptions, 716 yds, 11 TD), So. WR Devon Murray (48 receptions, 656 yds, 11 TD)

DEFENSE: Fr. LB Ben Baxter (47 total tackles, 27 solo tackles, 3 INT, 7 pass breakups), Sr. DE Travis Swanson (47 total tackles, 28 solo tackles, 19.5 TFL, 11.0 sacks), Fr. LB Blake Rybar (39 total tackles, 25 solo tackles, 2 INT, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Fr. S Tyler Bergeron (44 total tackles, 34 solo tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 pass breakups)

National Offense Ranking (Total yards of offense per game): No. 12 (486.7 yds/game)

National Defense Ranking (Total yards allowed per game): No. 6 (210.5 yds/game)

About the UMHB Crusaders

Head Coach: Pete Fredenburg (23rd season)

Conference: American Southwest

Season Record (overall/conf): 11-0, 9-0 (Notable results: vs No. 10 Hardin-Simmons, W 34-28, vs Howard Payne, W 59-14, vs Belhaven, W 29-0, vs No. 16 Trinity, W 13-3, vs. No. 19 Birmingham-Southern, W 42-7) 

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. The Cru defeated Trinity 13-3 in the first round behind a late, 17-yard rushing touchdown from Aphonso Thomas and followed that up with a 42-7 defeat of Birmingham-Southern in the second round. 

Names to know: 

OFFENSE: Sr. QB Kyle King (100-of-162 passing, 1,464 pass yds, 24 TD, 2 INT), Jr. RB Aphonso Thomas (924 rush yds, 5.9yds/carry, 12 TD), Sr. WR KJ Miller (48 receptions, 666 receiving yds, 9 TD), Sr. WR Brandon Jordan (33 receptions, 671 receiving yards, 11 TD)

DEFENSE: Sr. LB Jacob Mueller (79 total tackles, 48 solo tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), Sr. LB Akeem Jackson (60 total tackles, 29 solo tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Sr. S Jefferson Fritz (51 total tackles, 35 solo tackles, 1 INT, 7 pass breakups), Sr. CB Keith Gipson (41 total tackles, 30 solo tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 5 INT, 7 pass breakups) 

National Offense Ranking (total yards of offense per game): No. 15 (473.5 YPG)

National Defense Ranking (total yards allowed per game): No. 5 (210.4 YPG)

The Series

UMHB and Linfield have met eight times, with the all-time series tied at 4-4. Officially, due to NCAA vacated wins, Linfield leads the all-time series 4-0. In the postseason, the Wildcats hold a 4-2 series lead. 

Three storylines to watch

Rivalry renewed: It has been three full seasons since these two teams last met in 2017, but Linfield and UMHB have an extensive postseason history. The opponents faced off six times in the playoffs from 2004-2017, with the Wildcats winning the first four, including a 28-21 win in the 2004 Stagg Bowl, before the Crusaders took the next two. 

Quarterback play has been key in both teams’ offensive success: Executing balanced offenses starts with leadership at the quarterback position, something Linfield has in senior Wyatt Smith and UMHB has in seniors Kyle King and Ryan Redding. Smith was Linfield’s signal-caller the last time the programs met in 2017, but has matured greatly since his freshman year. The fifth-year senior is a semifinalist for the prestigious Gagliardi Trophy, annually awarded to the nation’s top D-III football player, and has thrown for 3,275 yards and 40 touchdowns this season. King, who started UMHB’s first eight games prior to suffering a turf toe injury, ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency and has accounted for 35 total touchdowns. He made the first playoff start of his career against Trinity, going 10-of-22 passing, and is listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart. Redding, was exceptional against Birmingham-Southern last week, with a 251-yard passing performance, and has started three games for the Cru this season. 

Expect strong defensive line play: One matchup that Linfield head coach Joseph Smith discussed at his press conference Wednesday was the impact of the UMHB defensive front, and the defense as a whole. Led by the play of fifth-year senior defensive end Sante Parker Jr., the Cru leads the nation in tackles for loss with 114.0. How many tackles for loss does Brevard, No. 2 in that category have? 92.0. UMHB’s defensive front has been exceptional against the run, allowing just 22 yards on the ground to Trinity, and 101 last week. But it should be noted that Linfield has a stellar defensive front of its own. The Wildcats rank second in the country in sacks (45.0). The four-man pass rush is a challenge for any defense to contain, and is solid against the run. Linfield has allowed opponents an average of just 1.8 yards per carry. 

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

Offense

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), Jerry Day (Fr.-TR)

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), Wyatt Crawford (So.-1L)

Right Tackle: Ethan Ruckman (So.-1L), Kyle Wente (Fr.-HS)

Defense

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)

Special Teams

Kicker: Anthony Avila (Sr.-3L),  Brandon Cunningham (Jr.-2L),

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)

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