Photo by CJ Halloran/True To The Cru
The home opener has arrived for UMHB Football in Week 3 of the regular season, with a noon matchup against fourth-ranked UW-Whitewater. The Crusaders seek their first win of the season, while UW-Whitewater is looking to stay undefeated in head coach Jace Rindahl’s first season.
As two of the nation’s most successful D-III programs, UMHB and UW-Whitewater have a tradition of competitive contests, which has been enhanced by their matchups in the postseason over the years. For the first time since 2006, the Crusaders and Warhawks will meet in Belton during the regular season on Saturday, in a critical non-conference duel.
We bring you our game preview presented by Montgomery Chiropractic featuring notes about the series history, interesting trends, players to watch, and how to follow the matchup.
All-Time Series Record
UMHB is 2-7 all-time against UW-Whitewater, with victories over the Warhawks coming in UMHB’s last two national title seasons (2018 and 2021). Both of those victories came in the postseason, and six of the nine total meetings have come in NCAA Playoffs.
UMHB played UW-Whitewater in the regular season in 2022 for the first time since 2007, falling 28-24. In fact, the last time that The Cru and Warhawks battled in Belton during the regular season was in a 7-3 UW-Whitewater win on Oct. 28, 2006. UMHB is 1-4 at home against the Warhawks.
- Stellar defense has been a key storyline in this series dating back to the first matchup in 2006. Seven of the nine matchups have seen the winning team allow just 14 points or fewer.
- Fast starts have been a pathway to victory in this series over the years, with teams being 8-1 when holding a halftime lead. Second quarter performance has also been indicative of success at times, with teams posting a 5-1 record when scoring more points than their opponent in the game’s second quarter.
- In both of UMHB’s victories, the Crusaders were shutout in the game’s first quarter, only to respond with a 17-point second quarter.
- Since 2018, neither UMHB nor UW-Whitewater have won consecutive meetings. Both teams are 2-2 against each other within that span.
- The passing game has been key for both programs in recent years, and UMHB carries a streak of seven straight games with at least 200 passing yards into this contest.
- A consistent Top 10 program, UW-Whitewater is 51-5 in non-conference matchups since 2005.
A look at The Cru
UMHB comes into this matchup 0-2 having begun its season by facing two opponents now ranked in the nation’s Top 10. UW-River Falls enters Week 3 at No. 7, and Trinity (TX), is No. 6. The Crusaders showed notable improvement between Weeks 1 and 2, and will look to do the same in their home opener.
Sophomore Isaac Phe held his own at quarterback in his first collegiate start against Trinity, completing 18 of 30 passes for 281 yards, and will look to carry that into Week 3. He demonstrated good poise in the pocket, and five of those 18 passes were caught by freshman TJ Rone, who has established himself at receiver. Rone has eight catches, which is the second-most amongst UMHB’s receiving corps. Jerry Cephus has a team-best 10 receptions for 199 yards. UMHB’s passing attack, in large part due to the deficits the Crusaders have faced, has accounted for 237.5 of their 265 yards per game.
Defensively, the Cru has battled against perhaps two of the country’s best quarterbacks in Kaleb Blaha (UW-River Falls) and Tucker Horn (Trinity). That experience is likely to benefit UMHB moving forwards, especially as the Crusaders look to contain the Warhawk offense. Opposing offenses are averaging 4.5 yards per play.
3 players to watch
WR Jerry Cephus: Cephus is a challenge for opposing defensive backs to contain, as his speed and agility make him a threat in the passing game. His 10 receptions and 199 yards both rank No. 1 amongst UMHB’s receivers, and he pulled in UMHB’s first touchdown pass of the season against UW-River Falls.
LB Durand Hill: The ASC’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Hill has a team-high 19.0 tackles per game thus far, with 12 of those being solo tackles. A Buda, Texas native, Hill is a force in both run and pass defense, and has 4.0 tackles for loss.
DT Mason Cavness: Cavness has quickly stepped up within the defensive front, and broke through the opposing offensive line on a couple of occasions against Trinity. He is a force to be reckoned with, and will challenge UW-Whitewater’s strong offensive line. The Marathon, Texas product leads The Cru with 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.
The Warhawks come into this matchup with momentum from a pair of Top 25 victories to begin the season, having beaten John Carroll, 27-23, on the road, and Saint John’s 56-28, at home. Both wins further established the fact that UW-Whitewater is in good hands under the direction of Jace Rindahl, who is in his first year as the program’s head coach, after having served as defensive coordinator since 2020.
Running back Tamir Thomas leads an offense that is averaging an impressive 6.9 yards per play. With athleticism on the offensive line, UW-Whitewater is tough up front and prides itself in winning the battle on the line, with a physical, yet disciplined style of offense. Over the last two games, the offense has averaged 510.5 yards per contest.
Defensively, they have had their weak points, allowing 20-plus points in each of the last two weeks. But the Warhawks are not overcome easily on that side of the ball, especially against the run. While opponents do average 106.5 rushing yards per game, Saint John’s tallied just 38 yards on 24 carries last week, as the Warhawks shut out the Johnnies in the fourth quarter. UW-Whitewater’s defensive front has not given up a rushing touchdown yet this season.
On special teams, the Warhawks have one of the nation’s top kickers on their side. Jeff Isotalo-McGuire was the WIAC’s top kicker in 2022 and was named to the 2023 preseason watch list for the Fred Mitchell Award, annually given to the best kicker in the country amongst the FCS, D-II, D-III, NAIA, and JUCO levels. He is one of just two sophomores on the list and was 38-for-38 on PATs last season along with an 11-of-15 mark on field goal attempts.
3 players to watch
RB Tamir Thomas: A playmaker in the backfield, Thomas is averaging 8.1 yards per carry, an impressive number considering the quality of UW-Whitewater’s last two opponents. He enters Week 3 with 259 yards and three touchdowns and has two receptions for 50 yards. The junior from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, ranks eighth in the country in total rushing yards.
QB Jason Ceniti: Ceniti answered the call after starting quarterback Alec Ogden went out in the first quarter of last week’s matchup, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 175 yards. A junior, Ceniti is a dual-threat quarterback, and Warhawkfootball.com wrote in the preseason that he “has rare strength for a QB and can run over a defender as well as around him.”
LB Hawk Heffner: A senior linebacker, Heffner leads the team in tackles, with 17.0. He is quick to the ball and is a core part of this defense, having seen action in 26 games during his collegiate career. In last season’s win over UMHB, Heffner tallied two solo tackles.
WATCH: UMHB will broadcast the game live at portal.stretchinternet/umhb. Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. CT.
LISTEN: Ward Whites (play-by-play) and Jon Wallin (color) will have the call over the airwaves in Temple/Belton on Fox Sports Central Texas. Tune in at 93.9 FM or at listen.streamon.fm.
STATS: Live stats can be found at portal.stretchinternet/umhb.
True To The Cru will be at Crusader Stadium for the Top 25 matchup, so be sure to follow us on X/Twitter and Facebook for in-game updates. Our photography team will also be on the sidelines and bring you a high-level photo gallery following the contest.