Above photo by CJ Halloran/True To The Cru/@cjhall_photography
CANTON, Ohio- The final game of the 2021 season has arrived, as UMHB battles defending national champion North Central, in a matchup of the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
Find information about how to watch and listen to Friday’s national championship contest, as well as storylines, team breakdowns, and UMHB’s two-deep depth chart in this week’s Stagg Bowl Preview.
STAGG BOWL: No. 2 UMHB vs No. 1 North Central
Date: Dec. 17
Place: Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, Canton, Ohio
Time: 6 p.m. CT
Radio: 99.3 FM/1330 AM
About the opponent: North Central College Cardinals
Head Coach: Jeff Thorne (6th Season)
Conference: College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin
Season Record (overall/conf): 13-0, 9-0 (Notable Results*: vs No. 21 Aurora, W 64-7, at No. 5 Wheaton, W 20-7, No. 11 Wisconsin-La Crosse, W 34-20, at No. 4 Mount Union, W 26-13)
How they got here: The reigning national champions glided through a 9-0 CCIW record, along with a non-conference win over Aurora. NCC’s first-round game was declared a no contest, after Carnegie Mellon pulled out of the playoffs due to Covid. The Cardinals then defeated Top 20 opponents Wisconsin-La Crosse and RPI, before going on the road for a 26-13 win at Mount Union.
Players to Watch:
OFFENSE: Fr. QB Luke Lehnen (178-of-269 passing, 3,082 yds, 32 TD, 7 INT), Jr. RB Ethan Greenfield (1,672 rush yds, 23 TD, 7.6 yds/carry), Sr. WR Andrew Kamieński (67 receptions, 1,150 yds, 11 TD), So. WR DeAngelo Hardy (46 receptions, 979 yds, 12 TD)
DEFENSE: Sr. LB Storm Simmons (59 total tackles, 35 solo tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack), Jr. DL Dan Gilroy (30 total tackles, 22 solo tackles, 15.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks), Jr. DL Tyler Rich (29 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 10.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks), So. DB Nic Rummell (24 total tackles, 22 solo tackles, 3 INT)
Note: Rankings listed are the ranking of the opponent at the time of the contest
National Offense Ranking (Yards Per Game): No. 2 (559.2 yds/game)
National Defense Ranking (Yards Allowed Per Game): No. 10 (235.0 yds/game)
About the UMHB Crusaders
Head Coach: Pete Fredenburg (24th season)
Conference: American Southwest
Season Record (overall/conf): 14-0, 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, at UW-Whitewater, W 24-7)
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, Birmingham-Southern and Linfield in Belton in the first three rounds of the playoffs, before coming up victorious at Whitewater, 24-7, last week in the semifinals.
Players to Watch:
OFFENSE: Sr. QB Kyle King (146-of-227 passing, 2,246 pass yds, 32 TD, 2 INT), Jr. RB Aphonso Thomas (1,063 rush yds, 5.6 yds/carry, 12 TD), Sr. WR KJ Miller (67 receptions, 812 receiving yds, 10 TD), Sr. WR Brandon Jordan (51 receptions, 971 receiving yards, 16 TD)
DEFENSE: Sr. LB Jacob Mueller (91 total tackles, 54 solo tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks), Sr. LB Akeem Jackson (80 total tackles, 40 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Sr. S Jefferson Fritz (62 total tackles, 43 solo tackles, 1 INT, 8 pass breakups), DE E’Monte Smith (39 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 15.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks)
National Offense Ranking (total yards of offense per game): No. 15 (471.3 YPG)
National Defense Ranking (total yards allowed per game): No. 8 (233.4 YPG)
This will be the first time North Central has battled UMHB on the gridiron.
Three storylines to watch
North Central run game vs. UMHB defensive front: North Central has found plenty of success offensively behind its consistent offensive line and the play of running back Ethan Greenfield, who tallied 190 yards on the ground last week against Mount Union. Establishing a rhythm on the ground has been critical to the reigning national champions’ success this season, but UMHB might just be the toughest run defense the Cardinals have faced. The Crusaders held All-WIAC running back Alex Peete to just 43 yards last week against Wisconsin-Whitewater, and are holding opponents to an average of 2.3 yards per attempt. This matchup will play a critical role in deciding the outcome. If UMHB can stop the run, or at least slow the NCC run game, it will force the Cardinals to go through the air, and
The nation’s best: Each team has a Gagliardi Trophy Finalist, with UMHB safety/punter/returner Jefferson Fritz and NCC wide receiver Andrew Kamienski. Both are expected to play major roles in their squad’s performance in Canton, and have the ability to change the game alone. Fritz was the only defensive player to earn finalist or semifinalist honors, while Kamienski was one of just wide receivers on the semifinalist ballot. UMHB is 4-0 against teams with Gagliardi Trophy semifinalists this season (Kyle Jones, Tucker Horn, Max Meylor, Wyatt Smith).
Stagg Bowl Experience: Both teams have ample Stagg Bowl experience, with UMHB playing in the national title game every year from 2016-2018, and North Central winning it all in 2019. This matchup features the two most recent national champions, as both are also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation by the American Football Coaches Association and D3football.com.
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), 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)
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)
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)
Riley Zayas is the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked as a sportswriter since 2016 and can be contacted at email@example.com.