No. 3 UMHB football reaches D-III quarterfinals in 24-17 win at Trinity

SAN ANTONIO, Texas- The UMHB defense answered the call on Saturday afternoon. 

Backed up into its own territory, with Trinity having converted on consecutive third-downs, and approaching its 20th minute on the field in the second half, the Crusader defense had a lead to protect. And Trinity was doing everything in its power to erase what had been a 17-point deficit midway through the third quarter, now trailing by a single touchdown, as the fourth quarter drew to an increasingly dramatic close. 

“If they don’t score, they can’t win,” UMHB defensive back Tommy Bowden said postgame. “We just tried to bow our necks and stop them. It wasn’t really anything different than what our mentality always is.” 

And with that approach, the Crusaders found a way to pull out a 24-17 win over No. 6 Trinity in the second round of the D-III football playoffs on Saturday afternoon. UMHB advances to the quarterfinals, facing Bethel University on Dec. 3. 

UMHB defense comes up with its biggest stop of the game

Worn down by the offense of Trinity, characterized by its short passes and consistent rushing gains, the UMHB defensive line was unable to get to Trinity quarterback Tucker Horn as the clock ticked under a minute, with an eight-yard completion to Justin Carmouche on fourth down putting Trinity on the UMHB 25-yard line. It was the 11th play in a lengthy drive, produced by an empty possession from the Crusaders, after Anthony Avila missed a 37-yard field goal wide left. 

“It came down to execution,” Trinity head coach Jerheme Urban said postgame, noting his team’s second-half offensive success. “We didn’t get away from plays that we ran all week in practice. [These were plays] that we thought had a chance to be successful.”

They were for a good portion of the drive, which began at the 6:01 mark of the fourth quarter. But the Crusaders made up for it on the very next play, with Sante Parker Jr. and Pete Smith rushing into the backfield, forcing Horn to backpedal, before Tristan Green pulled him down at the 39-yard line. A hint of momentum slipped away for the Tigers. 

But the defensive front was not done yet. Bowden broke up a pass over the middle on second down, and Trinity faced 3rd & 24, with the clock under 15 seconds. Horn took the snap, stepped back, but had no receiving options open. The UMHB secondary was tight in its coverage of Trinity’s receivers, and in an instant, Dorian Pittman rushed past the Tiger offensive line, laying a hard hit on Horn for a second sack. It was the game’s final play. 

“[UMHB] did a much better job of executing in the first half,” Urban said. “I thought our guys did a great job in the second half. It just wasn’t enough.”

Trinity rushed to the line of scrimmage, but time expired before the ball could be snapped once more. And UMHB seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Of the four teams in region three who reached the postseason, the Crusaders were the only ones left standing when they made their way off the turf. 

A strong start from the Crusaders

As the final score suggests, the margin between the two in-state foes proved slim. 366 yards of offense for UMHB, 315 for Trinity. 18 first downs for the Tigers compared to 16 for the Cru. 289 passing yards for UMHB quarterback Kyle King, and 282 for Horn. But it was not that way for the game’s entirety, in a contest that was the epitome of the cliche phrase, “a tale of two halves.” 

By and large, UMHB was the better team in the first half. Though Carmouche returned the opening kickoff to the UMHB 38-yard line, setting the Tigers up with prime field position for their first possession, the Crusader defense allowed only eight yards, forcing an incompletion on 4th & 2. UMHB would come up with yet another fourth down stop on Trinity’s fifth drive, as the Tigers were unable to capitalize on a fumble by UMHB running back Kenneth Cormier Jr. that was recovered on the UMHB 48-yard line. 

Then there was the offense. Kyle King broke the program’s single-season record for passing touchdowns (a record he previously held) with 3:49 in the opening quarter, finding K.J. Miller just outside of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown pass that saw Miller escape from the grip of a Trinity defender as he gave UMHB a 7-0 lead. 

That five-play, 33-yard drive was the only time either team got into the end zone in the first half, though Avila added a 31-yard field goal nearly four minutes into the second quarter, making it 10-0, which ended up as the halftime score. But it was enough to give UMHB significant momentum, an invaluable asset on the road, especially in the postseason. 

“I thought we played a great first half,” UMHB head coach Larry Harmon noted postgame, adding that he was only disappointed in the punt return unit at halftime “not getting the blocks to set up our returners.”

The stats certainly said so. Trinity totaled 59 yards of offense in the first two quarters, just five of those coming on 13 rushing attempts. And for a team ranked No. 15 in the nation in first down offense entering the matchup, UMHB limiting Trinity to two first downs was notable. 

“I think it’s just a bunch of guys who care for each other, and who know how to win,” Bowden said. “That’s all there is to it.” 

At the same time, it seemed that the UMHB offense had been challenged a fair share by the Tiger defense, yet still looked solid on the halftime stat sheet, with 132 passing yards on 12 completions from King, 182 total offensive yards, and four different receivers with at least two receptions. Jamaal Hamilton was tied for the team high in the latter category when the second quarter ended, with three catches for 27 yards in the first half. His longest reception had gone for 15 yards, but he quadrupled that on the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter. After Matthew Jackson’s 90-yard kickoff return (that went for a touchdown) was called back due to a penalty, Hamilton stepped up, taking King’s screen pass before turning and racing up the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown, aided greatly by Brandon Jordan’s stellar blocking on the outside. 

“Whatever tasks I’m requested to do, [I’ll do], because that’s my duty,” Jordan said of his blocking on the outside. “I’m going to make an impact on the game whether that’s catching, blocking, or being a distraction. Whatever I can do.” 

He was useful in a number of ways for the Cru, a stark difference from his performance against Trinity a year ago. As he noted postgame, he tallied just one catch for a mere nine yards in that 13-3 first round win. On Saturday, matched up against many of the same defensive backs who guarded him in that previous meeting, Jordan pulled in a team-best six catches for 139 yards, the only receiver for either team who eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark.

“He played his most complete game today,” Harmon said of Jordan. “He did a great job blocking, taking short passes. He looked like what everybody expects out of him, being an NFL prospect.” 

Including his ability to take what most likely would be a short gain, and turn it into a score. Trinity countered Hamilton’s touchdown with a score of its own, as Horn found Cole Monago wide open down the right sideline after a fake pitch got the UMHB defense out of position. But on the very next possession, Jordan responded by catching King’s pass on 3rd & 4, turning and weaving between a pair of Tiger defenders before distancing himself from the pursuers in maroon, going 45 yards for a touchdown that put UMHB up 24-7. 

Trinity’s second-half rally

Trinity had its spectacular moments as well, as the Tigers demonstrated an uncanny sense of resilience in an aggressive second-half comeback. After Horn’s first passing touchdown, he added another, completing a 13-yard pass into the hands of tight end Matthew Kovacevich on the third-play of Trinity’s first fourth-quarter drive. 

“I think we found some holes [in the defense] that we weren’t hitting in the first half,” Horn said postgame. “A couple times in the first half we had some negative plays. When you have negative plays against a really good defense, it’s hard to make up for that because they’re going to take advantage of that. Staying ahead of the chains really helped us in the second half.” 

That got the Tigers within one score, though sandwiched between the two scores was a field goal that could have been a touchdown. 

The two sacks on Trinity’s final possession were the lasting memory of UMHB’s tenacious defensive effort. But midway through the third quarter, the Crusaders showcased solid red zone defense, with Trinity on the four-yard line on first down. Horn initially completed a pass to a receiver in the back of the end zone, after seeing a trio of UMHB defenders closing in. But Horn released the ball too late, already past the line of scrimmage. So a second down from the six-yard line resulted, and on consecutive plays, UMHB’s defense broke up well-placed passes, forcing Trinity to settle for a field goal. 

It was stands like that one that held Trinity off just long enough for UMHB to leave with victory in tow.

“Those guys have a lot of heart and love for the team,” Harmon said of his defensive line. “Those guys stayed positive. They were the ones saying, ‘We’re going to get this thing done.’”

There was a certain emotion in Jordan’s voice as he sat in the postgame press conference room, having been asked about the stellar senior class that has guided the Cru to this point. He knows his time at UMHB is coming to a close, just as it is for King, Bowden, and 17 others. 

“When I first got here, I was upset because it was so tough,” Jordan said. “I thought, ‘Oh it’s D3, what is this?’ Now, I literally don’t want to ever leave. This is my home.”

With that level of heart and commitment amongst the team, there is no telling how far the Cru can go. Tried and tested, especially in the final quarter, UMHB continues to be refined in closely-contested battles. 

“We learn from the work we put in,” Jordan said. “It just comes together as we get deeper into the playoffs.”

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