Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- On the Sunday prior to top-ranked UMHB’s season-opener against No. 11 Muhlenberg, head coach Larry Harmon gathered his unity council, which consisted of some of the team’s most veteran leaders.
And he asked them a question. A simple question.
“I said, ‘Ok guys, give me a synopsis of [the scrimmage] on Saturday. Did you feel like it was way different now with me running it instead of Coach Fred?’”
Their answer was straightforward.
“They gave me the best compliment that they could,” Harmon recalled. “They said, ‘No, it seemed just like Coach Fred was there.’”
UMHB looked very much like one of Fredenburg’s teams on Saturday night, in Harmon’s head coaching debut. The Crusaders did not turn the ball over, put together a superior defensive effort, and moved the ball upfield with ease. There were few hiccups, even against an opponent with the resume of Muhlenberg, as the nation’s No. 1 team defended its place atop the national rankings in a dominant 62-13 victory.
“Our goal tonight was to be the best team in the stadium,” Harmon said, “and I don’t think there’s any doubt that we were. And we’re going to move on. That’s our goal.”
Even in the similarities to past UMHB teams, the 2022 squad still had a handful of noticeable differences. Entering the matchup, one of the intriguing storylines was the fact that starting quarterback Kyle King would double as the team’s punter. But King never got onto the field to punt; the offense was too busy finding the end zone.
Under the new offensive scheme of offensive coordinator Andy Padron-an up-tempo, pass-heavy type of system-UMHB thrived when it had the ball. The Cru scored on every possession in the first three quarters, but the one early in the second quarter when running back Kenneth Cormier’s progress was stopped on a fourth-and-goal rush within inches of the goal line. On the Cru’s first play from scrimmage in the first quarter, moments after the defense forced a Muhlenberg punt, King dropped back, found receiver Jamaal Hamilton racing across the field and Hamilton did the rest, pulling in the pass, and breaking multiple tackles as Muhlenberg’s defenders sprinted in pursuit. Hamilton’s 54-yard touchdown set the tone, and touchdown passes to Will McClintock and Brandon Jordan followed soon after as UMHB held a 41-13 advantage at halftime.
“It’s pick your poison,” Harmon told reporters postgame. “You want to stay out there and protect the pass, we’re going to run it on you. And if you try to get in there and stop the run, you’re going to have to go man [defense] and we got some guys who can make big plays.”
King played three quarters under center for the Cru, and yet, still threw for 379 yards, 34 more than his second-highest passing performance of 2021. After a slow start, Jordan exploded, with a pair of touchdown catches in the first half. He finished with a team-high 120 receiving yards on six receptions, including a spectacular 15-yard reception over the outstretched hands of two Muhlenberg defensive backs with 35 seconds left in the second quarter.
“When [Andy Padron] interviewed for the offensive coordinator job, [I knew that] he was going to be high-octane,” Harmon said. “He was going to be a guy that knows where the matchups are. He’s going to dictate it to the defense. And I think you just saw it tonight.”
“Things clicked a lot faster than we anticipated today, which was nice,” King added. “Coach Padron called a great game. We had guys wide open all over the field. As far as getting to know a new offense, it’s still a learning process. We’re not where we’re going to be, we still made some mistakes. But we’re going to be pretty good.”
To its credit, Muhlenberg remained in the fight, even countering UMHB’s first score with a touchdown of its own, as quarterback Joe Repetti found Christopher Ardito in the end zone for a seven-yard pass. But it simply was not enough to contend with the Cru, on either side of the ball. The offense controlled the box score with its deep passes, and exceptional rushing plays, but the defense did not give an inch, holding the Mules rushing attack to 174 yards, and forcing a pair of second-half turnovers, the second of which-a Michael Putney interception-came at the UMHB four-yard line, as Muhlenberg was knocking on the door to the end zone.
“I thought we played incredibly hard,” Harmon said. “I can’t knock how hard we played. Now, we made a lot of mistakes. We need to get in there tomorrow with a good film session and learn from them. And we will. That’s what we’re built on. That’s what we do. That’s what our kids expect.”
The victory sets up UMHB’s road showdown on Sept. 10, as the Cru visits No. 4 Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks dropped their season opener at No. 5 Saint John’s on Saturday, something that Harmon believes could give UW-Whitewater another reason for a strong week two bounceback.
“They don’t lose at home,” Harmon said of Whitewater. “We have to go in there with the right frame of mind. Your biggest improvement is from week one to week two. So we need that to happen this week for us in preparation. We have to go down there with a business mentality.”
Coming into 2022, there were doubts as to how UMHB would fare, considering the fact that just four coaches from the 2021 staff remained, several all-conference defensive standouts had graduated, and the Crusaders were scheduled to open the season against two reigning conference champions. But after the performance witnessed in front of the crowd of 7,134 at Crusader Stadium Saturday night, it would be hard to validate many of those doubts.
Yet, Harmon is not satisfied. His team is not satisfied. Certainly, the win, and the margin of the win, is notable. They are not taking their foot off the gas moving forwards though. The journey to Annapolis and the 2022 Stagg Bowl has only begun.
“Hopefully we just keep getting better and better,” Harmon said. “We want to peak in week 15, not week one.”
|No. 11 Muhlenberg||7||6||0||0||13|
|No. 1 UMHB||20||21||21||0||62|
Passing: Kyle King (19-of-28, 379 yards, 6 TD)
Rushing: Aphonso Thomas (13 carries, 87 yds, 1 TD), Kenneth Cormier Jr. (15 carries, 60 yds, 1 TD)
Receiving: Brandon Jordan (6 rec, 120 yds, 2 TD), Jerry Cephus (4 rec, 77 yds, 1 TD)
Tackles: Trashawn Adams (9), Durand Hill (8), Tommy Bowden (6)
Tackles for loss: Johnny Smith-Rider (2.5), Kobe Giles (1.5)