Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
SEGUIN, Texas- There were just 800 people in the stands at Bulldog Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Only 800 people who saw Kyle King break the program record for completions in a single game. Only 800 people who witnessed Matthew Jackson’s record-setting 95-yard punt return. Only 800 people who watched the UMHB offense put up double the amount of first-quarter points it had in the previous two games.
But that did not matter. After two decent, yet underwhelming victories, the nation’s fourth-ranked team was competing very much against itself in addition to the opponent, Texas Lutheran.
“What’s on our color jersey is all we can control,” UMHB head coach Larry Harmon said on the Fox Sports Central Texas radio broadcast pregame, referencing the fact that the Cru could only be focused on their own performance. “We’re just going to come out here and execute our game plan.”
That is exactly what UMHB did. Sure, there was a slight second-half lapse. And there were mistakes made. But in the end, the Crusaders emerged with a 45-16 victory, moved to 5-0 in ASC play, and came away from the contest with what appeared to be a healthy dose of confidence.
“I’m happy that we won.” UMHB head coach Larry Harmon said on the postgame radio broadcast. “Goal accomplished, we were the best team in the stadium today.”
Miller and Jackson give Cru an early lead
It seemed that there was a definite separation in the first quarter: what happened on TLU’s first drive, and what played out afterwards. The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff up to their own 30-yard line, then went the additional 70 yards on eight plays in 3:30, taking advantage of what Harmon called a “slow start” for the defense in his halftime radio interview. TLU quarterback Seth Cosme completed a six-yard touchdown pass that capped the drive and gave the hosts an early 6-0 lead after the missed extra-point.
It marked the second time in the last three contests that the UMHB defense allowed a touchdown on the opponent’s first drive.
But the Crusaders were not fazed. As the season has progressed, so has the maturity, especially for a defense that entered the year with several new starters. And for the remainder of the first half, TLU did not score.
UMHB’s offense, meanwhile, immediately sprang into action. Literally. On the fourth play of the Cru’s opening drive, K.J. Miller caught a short pass from King about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, then turned and cut towards the sideline. With a couple of blockers in front of him, the receiver accelerated as he moved upfield, outracing the TLU defensive backs who pursued in a futile attempt at stopping the inevitable: a 65-yard touchdown for Miller that put UMHB in front, 7-6, after the Anthony Avila extra-point.
Three minutes later, with 6:08 left in the first quarter, the Cru scored again, without the offense even taking the field. The UMHB defense responded to TLU’s early score by forcing a punt near midfield on the Bulldogs’ second possession, and initially, it appeared that Cameron Welch’s high-arcing punt would not be returnable. But Jackson, a sophomore, caught it at the UMHB five-yard line just in time, avoiding the sea of black TLU jerseys as he sprinted laterally towards the left sideline, before turning the corner, racing up the sideline. 95 yards and a number of broken tackles later, Jackson was in the end zone with an incredible touchdown return.
Not only did it break the previous program record for the longest punt return by five yards, but it also broke the ASC record.
The Crusaders controlled the first half
Plays like those were what allowed for such a quick start, as King completed two more touchdown passes in the quarter, en route to a 28-6 lead. In every facet of the game, from offense to defense to special teams, the Crusaders seemed to control the momentum. TLU was held to just 120 total yards, while UMHB picked up 246, and the lone turnover was forced by the Cru, a fumble recovered by Tommy Bowden at the 2:40 mark of the first quarter. That turnover led to a 24-yard touchdown pass from King to Jamaal Hamilton.
The Crusaders then added to the lead in the second quarter, running a unique formation with running back Kenneth Cormier Jr. taking a direct snap in the backfield. After being stopped one yard shy of the end zone on third down, Cormier powered across the goal line behind the blocking of tight end Andrew Wint on fourth down, giving UMHB its 35-6 halftime advantage.
The first half performance was exceptional, especially offensively as the rhythm was present early and often. But as in many contests this season, the start to the second half did not come with nearly the same amount of success as the first.
Second-half lull shows there is still room for improvement
The Cru marched into opposing territory on the first drive of the third quarter, but did not come away with points, turning the ball over after electing to keep the offense on the field, rather than try a long field goal, on a fourth down and eight play from the TLU 29-yard line. Avila did convert on a 23-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the quarter, but the ball still seemed to move upfield with less ease.
“Obviously I thought that we didn’t play a very good second half,” Harmon said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports Central Texas. “We’re going to go back and try to learn from that. We made some mistakes that we shouldn’t have made.”
The Crusaders tallied 169 yards of total offense in the second half, 77 fewer than they did in the first. Of course, there was also an obvious difference in score between the two halves, but even defensively, TLU accumulated 207 second-half yards, compared to just 120 in the first two quarters.
“We’re making progress,” Harmon added. “We have a lot of stuff that we have to get better at and we’re in that period of time where we can learn from our mistakes and keep playing.”
UMHB did find the end zone in the second half, with 2:59 remaining in the contest, as King found Miller for the second time for a touchdown, this one coming from just two yards out. Miller ran an excellent slant route into the end zone, recording the Cru’s first fourth-quarter touchdown since the Sept. 17 win over Southwestern. The completion was King’s 28th of the day, as the senior quarterback broke the previous program record for completions in a game (26). He threw for 337 yards and four touchdowns on 39 attempts.
After consecutive road games, UMHB hosts Sul Ross State in Belton next weekend. The game is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.