Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- In the journey that is a season, beginning not when the season kicks off, but as soon as the previous season concludes, difficulty inevitably arises. And it always seems that at some point, the road will get easier, the pressure will subside, the wins will come with less effort needed.
But for Larry Harmon and the third-ranked Crusaders, they are not looking for an easier path to winning back-to-back national championships. For a program that is heading to its 18th straight appearance in the D-III playoffs, and won its 18th consecutive ASC title on Saturday afternoon, they understand how tough the path to a national title can be, and they are ready to put forth the effort.
“I thought we saw some things that we hadn’t been doing. We threw it out there that it seemed like we were waiting for things to get easier instead of just knowing how to do the hard better,” Harmon said. “That was kind of our slogan this week. The kids did a great job on offense, defense and special teams.”
UMHB certainly did that, dominating McMurry 62-3 in the regular season finale on offense, defense, and special teams, claiming its 19th ASC championship . The stats were hardly comparable, as McMurry was held to -8 yards rushing and just 110 yards passing. It was not until the fourth quarter that the Warhawks put points on the board.
“I’m pleased right now,” Harmon said postgame. “I thought we played four quarters. The kids wanted to remind everyone that we are the defending national champions and someone has to beat us for that not to be.
“They’re excited about the opportunity. They’ve waited a long time, from about the middle of January until now. They’ve sacrificed a lot. They’ve gone through a bunch and now we finally get a chance to get back in the playoffs.”
On a day that UMHB’s stellar senior class was honored before kickoff, with it being the final regular season home game of their careers, the upperclassmen generated a great deal of momentum early on.
“I thought today was the day where our seniors really took the reins as far as, ‘We’re going to be the leaders of this thing, and this is the direction we’re going,’” Harmon noted. “If you guys want to be with us, follow along. They were strong all week.”
How it happened
Kyle King opened the game with a pair of passes to fellow senior receiver Brandon Jordan, as the Cru’s first drive resulted in a 42-yard Anthony Avila field goal. On UMHB’s second offensive possession, King found Jamaal Hamilton, another member of the Cru’s senior receiving corps, in a tight window, and advanced the ball up to the four-yard line. King took it across the goal line himself one play later, for his first rushing touchdown of the year.
The defense, which had already been stellar by forcing two McMurry punts in the opening quarter, saw fifth-year defensive end Sante Parker Jr. sack Warhawk quarterback Andrew McBride in the backfield on 3rd & 10 on McMurry’s third drive of the game.
The fireworks in the first half came with 3:34 left, when the UMHB special teams unit came up with a huge play. McMurry lined up for a punt, but the ball never touched the hands of the punter. Instead, the snap sailed over his head and into the end zone, which was recovered by a diving Caden Steubing for UMHB. The touchdown made it 27-0 at halftime, and Harmon was pleased with the first half effort.
There was no second half drop-off in this one, as there had been in past games when UMHB went to halftime with victory as a given.
“With it being senior day and the last regular season home game for 20 of those guys, who have sacrificed so much and given so much of their souls to our program, these guys said, ’We’re going to play a full game.’ I’m proud of them. I thought we played like we should play going into the playoffs.”
Just as McMurry built up some momentum by crossing midfield for the first time with under four minutes in the third quarter, UMHB was right there to put a stop to it. McBride’s pass towards the left sideline was intercepted by Chaka Watson, who raced 51 yards untouched and into the end zone. It marked the first time this season that UMHB recorded an offensive touchdown, a defensive touchdown, and a special teams touchdown in the same game.
One possession later, and the defense stepped up with a second interception, as Tavion Page made a sliding catch just before midfield. UMHB running back Kenneth Miller to a handoff on the very next play 56 yards down the sideline for a score.
Such was the direction the second half went. The Crusaders did not let up, with 35 second-half points, including 21 in the third quarter alone. UMHB punted just once over the final two quarters, on its first possession, before scoring touchdowns on the next three drives.
Meanwhile the defense held McMurry to a net total of just eight rushing yards and just 58 passing yards, as the Warhawks did not reach the red zone at any point.
“We try not to get too complacent,” Watson said postgame. “We tell ourselves going into halftime that it is 0-0, and we still have 30 minutes left. We stay focused until the game is all the way over.”
That mentality will serve the Crusaders well come playoff time next week.
Kenneth Miller Jr. rushed for a team-best 88 yards on just five carries, and Kenneth Cormier Jr. added to UMHB’s 235 rushing yards with 67 on 10 carries and a touchdown of his own. King was exceptional in his final regular season contest, completing 17-of-23 passes for 212 yards and two scores. Miller had five receptions and Jordan and Jerry Day each had four, with the trio accounting for 174 of the Cru’s 223 passing yards.
Titus Dunk was the leading tackler, with five solo tackles, and six total. Parker had a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss and four total tackles.
UMHB awaits its playoff selection, with the bracket to be released on Sunday at 4 p.m. CT.