Playoff Preview: No. 2 UMHB at No. 3 Wisconsin-Whitewater

Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru

BELTON, Texas- The last time UMHB went on the road, it as nearly a month ago to Abilene, where the Crusaders took down McMurry 77-3. This week, they will be playing much further north, battling Wisconsin-Whitewater on the road for the first time since 2007.

We cover the matchup, the storylines, the teams, and bring you UMHB’s two-deep depth chart in this week’s playoff preview.

No. 2 UMHB at No. 3 Wisconsin-Whitewater
Date: Dec. 11

Place: Perkins Stadium, Whitewater, Wisconsin

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Streaming: ESPN+

Radio: 93.9 FM/1330 AM


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READ: There’s nothing like home UW-Whitewater excited to host UMHB in semifinal round


About the opponent: Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks

Head Coach: Kevin Bullis (6th season)

Conference: Wisconsin Intercollegiate (WIAC)

Season Record (overall/conf): 13-0, 7-0 (Notable results: at Salisbury, W 31-14, vs UW-Platteville, W 65-21, vs UW-La-Crosse, W 13-7, vs Central, W 59-21)

How they got here: After rolling through WIAC play with a 7-0 record, the Warhawks allowed just seven points over their first two playoff games, taking down Greenville 69-7, then DePauw 45-0. Facing the nation’s top passing offense last week, UW-Whitewater used 17-fourth quarter points to claim the 59-21 victory. 

Names to know: 

OFFENSE: Sr. QB Max Meylor (216-of-306 passing, 2,950 pass yds, 35 TD, 2 INT), Sr. RB Alex Peete (1,403 rush yds, 6.3 yds/carry, 25 TD), Sr. WR Ryan Wisniewski (60 receptions, 1,036 receiving yds, 13 TD), Jr. WR Tyler Holte (43 receptions, 701 receiving yds, 10 TD)

DEFENSE: Jr. LB Aaron Sturdevant (56 total tackles, 32 solo tackles, 4.5 TFL), Sr. DL Mackenzie Balanganayi (31 total tackles, 9 solo tackles, 6.0 sacks), Sr. DB Mark McGrath (49 total tackles, 29 solo tackles, 1 INT, 6 pass breakups), Jr. DL Kyle Gallagher (28 total tackles, 14 solo tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks)

National Offense Ranking (Yards per game): No. 23 (452.2 yds/game)

National Defense Ranking (Yards allowed per game): No. 20 (257.5 yds/game)

About the UMHB Crusaders

Head Coach: Pete Fredenburg (23rd season)

Conference: American Southwest

Season Record (overall/conf): 13-0, 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, vs No. 7 Linfield, W 49-24) 

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. Last week, the Cru used its passing attack to down Linfield 49-24. 

Names to know: 

OFFENSE: Sr. QB Kyle King (124-of-194 passing, 1,937 pass yds, 30 TD, 2 INT), Jr. RB Aphonso Thomas (984 rush yds, 6.0 yds/carry, 12 TD), Sr. WR KJ Miller (60 receptions, 763 receiving yds, 10 TD), Sr. WR Brandon Jordan (40 receptions, 807 receiving yards, 14 TD)

DEFENSE: Sr. LB Jacob Mueller (89 total tackles, 53 solo tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), Sr. LB Akeem Jackson (68 total tackles, 32 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Sr. S Jefferson Fritz (59 total tackles, 41 solo tackles, 1 INT, 8 pass breakups), Sr. CB Keith Gipson (48 total tackles, 36 solo tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 5 INT, 7 pass breakups) 

National Offense Ranking (total yards of offense per game): No. 15 (478.5 YPG)

National Defense Ranking (total yards allowed per game): No. 9 (230.5 YPG)

The series

The two opponents have met five times in the postseason, seven times overall. UW-Whitewater holds a 6-1 lead all-time, and won the last meeting between the two in Belton during the 2019 quarterfinals. 2007 was the last time the Cru was in Whitewater. 

Three storylines to watch

Standout passing attack: Both teams boast a quality passing attack that has risen to the occasion time and time again this postseason. Last week against Linfield, UMHB quarterback Kyle King broke the program’s single-game record for touchdown passes, tossing six in the victory, three of which were to wide receiver Brandon Jordan. UW-Whitewater is led by senior signal caller Max Meylor, who has completed 70 percent of his passes, and threw for 230 yards in last week’s win over Central. 

On the ground: Though the passing game has been stellar for both the Cru and Warhawks, the running games of both teams should not be overlooked. In freezing conditions on Saturday, the rushing attacks may take central stage, and if that happens, be prepared for a show. The Warhawks rely on senior Alex Peete for the majority of their rushing yardage, as the running back has averaged 6.3 yards per carry and ranks ninth in the nation in rushing yards this season. For UMHB, Aphonso Thomas has been preparing for this moment for quite some time, as the junior has tallied eight touchdowns since the Oct. 29 win over Belhaven.

In the trenches: If there is one game this season for UMHB where line play will be pivotal, it is this one. The UMHB offensive line, which gained invaluable experience during the spring, has continued to evolve over the course of this fall. With three starters who are sophomores in terms of eligibility, finding a rhythm throughout the season has been vital in UMHB’s recent offensive success. That newfound experience will be tested in Whitewater, however, as the Warhawks are led by a number of standout defensive linemen, including Kyle Gallagher (5.5 sacks this season). The UW-Whitewater offensive line, whose recent alumni includes current Denver Broncos guard Quinn Meinerz, is experienced, with three senior starters, and undoubtedly one of the country’s best. This will make it tough for the Crusader defensive line, led by Sante Parker Jr. and Pete Smith, to put pressure on Meylor, though Fredenburg has noted throughout the second half of the season how impressed he has been with the play of the UMHB defensive front. 

“The offensive line at Whitewater is always big and physical and strong,” Fredenburg said. “Obviously the defensive line has a big job ahead of them to match up with [the UWW offensive line]. We rely on our defensive line to do a lot.” 

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), Dorien Shannon (Jr.-JV)

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)

Roster Notes: UMHB kept pretty much everything the same on the two-deep as compared to last week entering the quarterfinal against Linfield. The only change was Dorien Shannon being inserted as the backup at free safety. Shannon is a junior who has played in four games this season, including last week against Linfield, and recorded two solo tackles. Additionally, WR Romello Cook is not on the game roster for the third consecutive week. Cook has tallied seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown this season. 

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