Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
MARSHALL, Texas- UMHB head coach Larry Harmon could not say enough about his impressions of the fourth-ranked Crusaders’ practices in the days leading up to Saturday’s road duel at ETBU.
“If you were at our practice, you could’ve closed your eyes and been able to tell that it was a good practice just by the energy and the noise coming from it,” he said on the Fox Sports Central Texas radio pregame show.
Though that energy level stagnated at points as Saturday afternoon’s contest progressed, the committed preparation for ETBU paid dividends. With UMHB’s textbook tackling and a firm defensive presence, the Tiger offense had little opportunity for big plays, and a stretch of three straight scoring drives in the first half were enough for the Cru to leave a hostile environment with a 24-7 victory.
UMHB is now a perfect 4-0 in ASC play.
“East Texas Baptist has a lot of team speed,” Harmon said on the Fox Sports Central Texas radio broadcast. “Next to Whitewater, they’re probably the second-most athletic team we’ve played so far. I thought our kids competed well.”
Defense controlled the script early on
The ETBU defense, clad in its jet-black uniforms with gold numerals, took to the field with enthusiasm as UMHB began its first drive of the game in the opening quarter. For a unit that entered as the conference’s leader in both tackles and tackles for loss, the Tiger defense did not disappoint. At least for the Cru’s first two possessions.
UMHB quarterback Kyle King had little time to operate in the pocket as the Crusaders made their way downfield in the opening minutes of the contest. The ETBU defensive line rushed four, and got into the backfield within seconds of the snap, tackling the ball carrier behind the line on multiple occasions. That included the third down play on the ETBU 13-yard line, when King was tackled for no gain with no open receivers in sight. It brought on the field goal unit, but UMHB was forced to wait for its first points, as the 30-yard attempt from Anthony Avila was missed. The Cru’s second possession ended in a punt.
But ETBU had little offensive success of its own, as UMHB matched that defensive intensity. The Tigers punted on four of their six possessions in the first half, and ran the ball on 17 of their 28 plays, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry. They had just as much trouble throwing the ball, as quarterback Cornelius Banks’ 9-for-11 passing mark was a little misleading; not one of those completions, the majority being lateral screen passes, went for more than 11 yards.
The Cru defense was alert, and quick to the ball, with multiple Crusaders rushing to the ball carrier on every down. It kept the Tigers scoreless for a full three quarters, before they found the end zone on a six-yard pass in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. ETBU finished with 222 yards of total offense.
“I thought the defense had a great week of work,” Harmon said on the radio broadcast. “I thought they were locked in to what ETBU was doing on offense and I think that showed. I feel like we’ve made some strides defensively.”
3 straight scores
That defensive start gave the offense an opportunity to claim the Cru’s first lead of the game midway through the first quarter. After ETBU’s punt was blocked with 6:41 in the period, UMHB took possession in Tiger territory, and needed just four plays to find the end zone. King opened the drive with a 21-yard pass to Jamaal Hamilton, and three plays later, the King-Hamilton connection gave UMHB a 7-0 lead, on a 13-yard strike to the top right corner of the end zone.
The next possession was similar in nature, with King completing five passes, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against ETBU aiding their charge to the end zone. A six-yard touchdown to K.J. Miller on a slant route into the end zone took a little bit more of ETBU’s home-field momentum away.
And if that did not do it, Tristan Green’s interception did. On the ensuing drive for the Tigers, the defensive lineman stepped in front of a short pass intended for the running back, pulling it to the turf. It set up the Cru with their best starting field position of the day, on the ETBU 29-yard line, and they cashed in, with Kenneth Cormier Jr. powering through traffic near the goal line for a one-yard score.
Challenges in the second half
Heading into halftime with a commanding 21-0 advantage, Harmon told the radio broadcast that he wanted to make sure his team remembered that there was an entire half yet to be played.
“The challenge is, it’s hot and humid, and we’re up by 21,” Harmon said. “I want to make sure our guys still realize that there’s a whole half to play.”
Energized by the short intermission, ETBU returned to the field with a sense of confidence, despite the deficit. The defense again made stringing together completions and positive gains a challenge for the Crusader offense, as UMHB came up with a single 36-yard field goal from Avila in the game’s final two quarters. Though there were a handful of significant plays from the offense in the second half, and UMHB tallied three more yards of total offense than it did in the first two quarters, the overall effort and energy level was challenged.
“We have to create plays that get us energized to where we’re cheering each other on,” Harmon said on the radio broadcast. “That’s kind of what was missing today. We got up by three possessions, then went into that lull of, ‘Alright, we’ve got this thing in check, now what?’”
Entering the contest, UMHB had turned the ball over twice all season. In the span of 12 minutes, the Crusaders matched that total, losing two fumbles. And then there were the other two fumbles that were fortunately recovered by UMHB, such as the 34-yard completion to Jerry Day Jr. across midfield that saw Miller leap onto the loose ball.
“Our halftime was not the best halftime,” Harmon said on the postgame radio broadcast. “We kind of came out flat and didn’t play a great second half. But credit to our team for being talented enough, to [where we can] play one half and still have a chance to win.”
The victory keeps UMHB in the ASC title hunt, tied with Howard Payne atop the league standings. Saturday’s game was the first of consecutive road matchups for the Crusaders, who battle Texas Lutheran in Seguin, at 1 p.m., on Oct. 15. TLU defeated Austin College, 37-15, on the road, on Saturday afternoon in Sherman, Texas.
Passing: QB Kyle King: 22-of-35 passing, 211 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: RB Aphonso Thomas: 16 carries, 84 yds
Receiving: WR Jerry Day Jr.: 4 receptions, 70 yds
Tackles: Durand Hill (10), Omari Frazier (9), Titus Dunk (8), Johnny Smith-Rider (8)
Sacks: Johnny Smith-Rider (4.0), Sante Parker Jr. (2.0)
|UMHB (5-1, 4-0 ASC)||7||14||3||0||24|
|ETBU (2-3, 2-2 ASC)||0||0||0||7||7|