Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com.
BELTON- After being embedded in the hype of the Top 10 matchup against Hardin-Simmons a week ago, getting set for a contest the following week against a winless Austin College team had the potential to be a challenge for the UMHB on Saturday afternoon.
And to an extent, it was, with UMHB head coach Larry Harmon describing his team’s effort in the early minutes of the contest as “flat”.
“It’s probably our most lackluster performance of the year,” Harmon noted postgame, in reference to UMHB’s struggles against the ‘Roos on both sides of the ball early on .
Despite the miscues, the Crusaders emerged with a 38-7 victory in their homecoming contest. Anchored by 368 rushing yards and its second straight second-half shutout, UMHB settled in as the contest progressed, moving to 4-1 on the year.
But for a program of UMHB’s caliber, just winning, even by a margin of 31 points, is not good enough. It goes beyond the surface, beyond the final score, and the stats. It starts and ends with the quality of the effort put forth, regardless of the opponent. And that is a mentality UMHB will look to keep in the weeks moving forwards as improvements are made.
“We were flat,” Harmon said in a matter-of-fact way as he spoke with reporters postgame. “That’s one thing. We can fix that with leadership and enthusiasm.”
How it happened
The game began with an auspicious start, as UMHB took the opening kickoff to the 50-yard line, but struggled offensively. Quarterback Kyle King completed just one of five passes on UMHB’s first drive, and a hyped Austin College defense stood tall. UMHB came away with just a field goal from Anthony Avila after a drive that spanned nearly five minutes.
And when AC took possession, the Roos marched downfield behind their triple-option offense, aided by two 15-yard penalties against UMHB, and a 28-yard run from Tiger Dietz on third down into Crusader territory. With 5:23 in the opening quarter, AC quarterback Tyler James punched the ball across the goal line from one yard out, creating the improbable 7-3 score that saw the Roos in front.
“You would’ve thought we were going to church today,” Harmon said. “That was the main adjustment, [increasing our intensity]. And we did have to go to more of a read stance, instead of attacking and getting upfield and getting cut all the time.”
With those adjustments made, AC’s lead was brief, because UMHB soon found its footing, and settled into the rhythm that won games over nationally-ranked opponents, and was critical in last week’s 50-20 win at No. 10 Hardin-Simmons.
After positive gains from the running back duo of Kenneth Cormier and Aphonso Thomas, King connected with Marvin Young Jr. on a 22-yard touchdown pass to the top left corner of the end zone, and took back the lead, 10-7.
With the UMHB defense now fueled with momentum and aiming to rectify the early touchdown allowed, they gave AC little running room as the Roos got the ball back. On a key third-and-eight play, Sante Parker Jr. and Trey Belyeu-Witcher combined for a sack of James in the backfield, forcing AC’s first punt of the day. That punt resulted in yet another passing touchdown for King that capped off the drive, this time to KJ Miller from nine yards out, as the 5’7 receiver leapt high over a slightly taller defender.
For the remainder of the opening half that followed their touchdown, the Roos did not score and recorded a net total of just 33 yards of offense. But the Cru did not stop there, scoring on their first drive of the second half on a double-reverse run to Miller that went for 16 yards. King, in fact, played the game’s first three quarters, despite the growing lead.
“We were just trying to send a message that we’re not done, and our work isn’t over just because [we were up] 31-7 at half,” Harmon said of playing King deeper into the game. “We were just saying, ‘We’re still going to work on ourselves. We wasted this week getting ready for it, we’re not going to waste this game. We’re going to keep us in and try to get better.’”
Defending the triple-option offense
Coming into the matchup, AC had not completed a pass in 14 attempts during its first three contests of the season. That mark was broken on the ‘Roos first play of the game, when James completed a six-yard pass to Dietz, but it was also the one of just two passes AC completed. Such is the situation you encounter when facing an offensive scheme that has become an anomaly in college football. Passes are rare, and the rushing attempts come in bunches. AC ran the ball on 45 of its 48 plays, for a total of 121 yards.
“They were good at what they do, and it’s something we don’t really see in our conference,” UMHB linebacker Durand Hill, who had a team-high 13 tackles, said postgame of AC’s triple-option.
“Where it helps is, when you play [against the] triple-option, you have to play assignment football,” Harmon noted when he was asked about AC’s offense. “There were times when we didn’t play assignment football, so it’s going to be a great teaching tool for us as long as we learn from it.”
Finding success in the rushing game
For UMHB, the rushing attack also served as a point of emphasis, and four players who did not appear stagnant coming out of the gate were Thomas, Cormier, Montana Miller, and Kenneth Miller Jr. Handling the bulk of UMHB’s ground attack, they accounted for 183 of UMHB’s 310 first half offensive yards. Not one of them lost yardage on any play, with Thomas tallying 106 yards on 18 carries, and Miller Jr. with 96. Cormier played only in the first half, and had 40 yards on four carries, while Miller picked up 65 yards on nine attempts.
Miller Jr. had one of the game’s more impressive plays on his 32-yard touchdown run with just over a minute left in the second quarter, as he broke at least three tackles on a run to the right side, racing up the sideline and into the end zone. It gave UMHB its 31-7 halftime lead.
“Coach told us all week, ‘Make sure you don’t come out flat,’” Miller Jr. said. “They gave me a chance to put my talents on display, and I’m thankful. [On the touchdown run], I saw a whole and my receivers were blocking [which gave me room to run].”
After opening the season with three of its first five games at home, UMHB ventures on the road for the next two weeks, battling ASC opponents ETBU and Texas Lutheran. Next Saturday’s contest in Marshall, Texas, against ETBU is set for 1 p.m.
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