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The Best of Belton Playoff Preview: UMHB hosts Huntingdon in first round

Previewing this week’s NCAA first-round playoff matchup presented by The Best of Belton

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Follow the action

Date/Time: November 19, 12 p.m. CT

Location: Crusader Stadium, Belton, Texas

Watch: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/umhb/

Listen: 93.9 FM/1330 AM

No. 3 UMHB

Head coach: Larry Harmon (1st season)

Conference: American Southwest (ASC)

Overall Record: 9-1

Conference Record: 7-0

How they got here: UMHB clinched the ASC’s automatic bid to the postseason, claiming the program’s 18th straight ASC title in Saturday’s 62-3 win over McMurry. 

Notable win: @ No. 9 Hardin-Simmons, 50-20 

Consecutive seasons in the playoffs: 19

No. 20 Huntingdon

Head coach: Mike Turk (18th season)

Conference: USA South (USAC)

Overall record: 9-1

Conference record: 7-0

How they got here: The Hawks sealed a postseason trip in the 55-7 win over LaGrange Saturday, capturing the USAC title, and ride a nine-game win streak in the playoffs. 

Notable win: @ Birmingham-Southern, 38-35

Consecutive seasons in the playoffs: 3 

The series

The last time UMHB and Huntingdon battled, it was in the second round of the 2019 playoffs, when the Cru earned a 42-6 win in Belton. UMHB also defeated the Hawks, 43-23 in the first meeting between the two programs in the second round of the 2015 playoffs. 

Scouting the Hawks

Huntingdon has an exceptional offensive attack, averaging 40.6 points per game. It starts with senior quarterback Landon Cotney, whose athleticism makes him a threat both throwing the football and running it. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,471 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions.  

He has quality receivers to throw to as well, with Tyler England, Sebastian Verger, and Connor Bradford having all tallied 20-plus receptions this season. Bradford leads the team in receiving scores, with nine. 

But it has been the rushing attack that has paved the way for a number of those one-sided wins, led by Kahari McReynolds, a stellar 5’10, 190 lb junior who has rushed for 1,034 yards this season. He averages 5.9 yards per carry, and has 12 touchdowns entering the playoffs. 

Taking a look at Huntingdon defensively, the Hawks play a 3-3-4 defense, which allows them to stop the run well (allowing 102 rush yds/game) with the linebackers. Linebackers Tucker Spence and Casey Peppers lead the team in tackles, as Spence has 72 and Peppers, 64. Pass defense has been somewhat of a weakness of theirs, giving up about 217 yards per game through the air, fourth in the USAC. In Huntingdon’s lone loss to Linfield, the Wildcats had 340 yards passing. 

Special teams have the potential to play a key role in the outcome of a playoff contest. The Huntingdon field goal unit has attempted just eight field goals this season, making just four. Junior Will Edwards has been the primary kicker, having made 3-of-7 attempts with a long of 40 yards. He is 41-of-43 on extra-point attempts. Punter Zach Johnson averages 37.7 yards per punt, and his performance could be an important factor in the field position battle between the two opponents. 

And Huntingdon is led by one of the nation’s most tenured head coaches in Turk, who has been with the program for every win in program history after arriving in 2004 following the program’s winless  first season. He has turned Huntingdon into a consistent playoff team, and has a 122-56 record with the Hawks.

Going deep in the playoffs

You would have to go back to 2014 to find the last time that UMHB did not advance to the quarterfinal round of the 32-team tournament, when Linfield won a competitive 31-28 game in the second round. Even more impressive, the Cru has not lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs since 2002. In every season since then that UMHB has qualified, it has resulted in at least one playoff win. 

High achievers

26 members of the UMHB football program entered all-conference honors on Thursday afternoon, representing the Cru well amongst the ASC’s top players. Harmon was named Coach of the Year, Kyle King selected as Offensive Player of the Year, Sante Parker Jr. voted as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Ethan Ruckman named the Offensive Lineman of the Year, and K.J. Miller earned the title of Special Teams Player of the Year for the third time in his career. 

Joining the latter four on the All-ASC First Team was Reuel Tandoh, Jeffery Sims Jr., Aphonso Thomas, Kenneth Cormier Jr. and Anthony Avila from the offense. From the defense, Trey Belyeu-Witcher, Pete Smith, Durand Hill, Johnny Smith-Rider, Titus Dunk and Tommy Bowden were selected as First Team honorees. 

Huntingdon was equally well-represented on the USA South all-conference awards last week. Turk was named Coach of the Year, with Cotney, England and Clay Sipprell named First Team offense. Peppers, Spence, Tyrell Davis and Miller Park were selected to the conference’s First Team on defense.

The battle on the ground

One of the main matchups to watch will be the battle between Huntingdon’s rushing attack, which ranks No. 2 in the USAC (209 yds/game), and UMHB’s defense against the run (allowing 88.3 yds.game). It will be critical in determining the outcome, considering how proficient both units have been throughout the regular season. With a significant chance of rain on Saturday, it will become even more important, considering both passing games may struggle in the cold, rainy conditions. 

Look for Sante Parker Jr. and Johnny Smith-Rider to be especially key for UMHB. The duo is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (15.5). 

UMHB Two Deep Depth Chart (Per the UMHB Athletics Department)

*-Team Captain, L-Varsity Letter, SQ- Previously on varsity roster in past season(s) but has seen no playing time, TR- Transfer

Offense

Quarterback: Kyle King (Sr.-2L), Jackson Tingler (Jr.-1L),

Running Back: Aphonso Thomas (Sr. 1L), Kenneth Cormier Jr. (Jr.-2L)

Wide Receiver: Jerry Day Jr. (So.-1L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)

Wide Receiver: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jerry Cephus (So,-JV)

Wide Receiver: Brandon Jordan (Sr.-2L), Jawon Richards (Jr.-TR)

Tight End: Connor Mullins (Jr.-2L), Will McClintock (So.-TR)

Left Tackle: Reuel Tandoh (Jr.-2L), Kyle Wente (So.-1L)

Left Guard: Jesse Hoke (Jr.-2L), Wyatt Crawford (Jr.-2L)

Center: Jeffery Sims Jr. (Sr.-4L), Jacob Dailey (So.-2L)

Right Guard: Matt Sanders (Sr.-3L), John Schnautz (So.-JV)

Right Tackle: Ethan Ruckman (Jr.-2L), John Kazmierski (Sr.-3L)

Defense

Left Defensive End: Trey Belyeu-Witcher (So.-1L), Dorian Pittman (Fr.-HS)

Left Defensive Tackle: Pete Smith (Sr.-3L), Preston Johnson (So.-JV)

Right Defensive Tackle: Tristan Green (So.-1L), Mason Cavness (So.-JV)

Right Defensive End: Sante Parker Jr. (Sr.-3L), Kobe Giles (Jr.-2L)

Weakside Linebacker:  Johnny Smith-Rider (So.-1L), Caden Steubing (Jr.-JV)

Middle Linebacker: Durand Hill (So.-1L), La’Damian Bailey (So,-JV) 

Strongside Linebacker: Omari Frazier (Jr.-2L), Noel Wright (Jr.-TR)

Cru (Flex Safety): Tommy Bowden (Sr.-3L), Diarva Brown (Sr.-TR)

Free Safety: Dorian Williams (Jr.-TR), Cameron Mitton (Fr.-HS)

Cornerback: Titus Dunk (Sr.-3L), Trashawn Adams (So.-1L)

Cornerback: Chaka Watson (Jr.-2L), Tavion Page (Sr.-3L)

Special Teams

Kicker: Anthony Avila (Sr.-3L),  Jack Bruner (Fr.-HS)

Punter: Kyle King (Sr.-2L), Jack Bruner (Fr.-HS)

Punt Returner: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)

Kick Returner: KJ Miller (Sr.-4L), Jamaal Hamilton (Sr.-1L)

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