Above photo of UMHB’s 77-3 road win over McMurry on Nov. 13, 2021 by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
It is Week 4 of the 2023 football season, and American Southwest Conference play has arrived for UMHB. Entering the final game of September with an 0-3 record was not where the Crusaders expected to be, but winning the conference title is always a focus point for this program, who has 18 league titles to its name. And that quest for both an ASC Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA D-III Playoffs begins on Saturday night under the lights at Crusader Stadium, as UMHB hosts McMurry in its homecoming game.
This Week 4 Game Preview is presented by The Crusader Football Alumni Association, proudly supporting Cru Football and connecting the alumni of this legendary program. Through mentorship, events, fundraising, and more, the CRU FAA is committed to protecting and promoting The Code of The Cru, helping to continue the strong tradition of UMHB Football. If you are a UMHB Football alum, be sure to join the CRU FAA today! Visit cfaa.wildapricot.org and follow them on X/Twitter, @CruFAA.
All-time series history
UMHB has won the last 16 meetings with McMurry, going back to a 20-6 road win on Sept. 16, 2000. McMurry won the first two contests, in 1998 and 1999, but has been dominant in these matchups since. Just one of the last 16 games has been decided by single digits, when UMHB pulled out a 28-27 regular season win in 2011 in Belton. The two met again later that season in the playoffs, where UMHB won 49-20.
This week’s matchup is notable, considering it will be the final time that UMHB and McMurry face off in conference play, with the Warhawks departing to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference following the 2023-24 athletic year.
- In UMHB’s four matchups since 2018, when McMurry rejoined the ASC, The Cru has never scored fewer than 62 points in a game. Last year’s contest in Belton saw UMHB win 62-3, and an Oct. 5, 2019 contest in Abilene saw the Crusaders win, 79-0, which is their largest margin of victory in this series’ history.
- UMHB is 24-1 in American Southwest Conference home openers, with 23 straight wins in the first conference game of the year in Belton.
- UMHB’s lone ASC home opener loss came on Oct. 2, 1999 to McMurry, 21-7.
- The Cru is 23-2 in ASC openers all-time, with a 5-2 record against McMurry in those contests.
- UMHB is still looking for its first lead of the season. The Crusaders have not led at any point in their first three contests, and dating back to 2022, the last time they held a lead was in the final 10:31 of the fourth quarter of the national quarterfinal victory over Bethel (MN).
A look at The Cru
UMHB is 0-3 to start the season for the first time in program history, but played a very challenging non-conference schedule that featured three teams currently ranked in the D3football.com Top 25: No. 7 UW-River Falls, No. 6 Trinity (TX), and No. 4 UW-Whitewater. While the record is not ideal, facing top-tier competition has almost certainly accelerated UMHB’s improvement. Per UMHB’s game notes, the Crusaders are the only team in the nation to have faced three opponents ranked inside the D3football.com Top 10 this season.
The offensive attack saw a more balanced approach against UW-Whitewater last week, registering its first game of the season with 100+ rushing yards and 100+ passing yards. That type of balance has been a key factor in UMHB’s past success, and at this point, many of UMHB’s new starters on the offense have settled into their roles through in-game experience. That includes quarterback Isaac Phe and wide receiver TJ Rone, who have become a consistent duo in the passing game against both Trinity and Whitewater. UMHB’s offense currently ranks third amongst ASC teams in red zone offense, having scored in eight of the 10 instances in which the Crusaders ventured inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
On the defensive side, the Crusaders have taken a similar step forward, limiting a powerful Whitewater offense to just 260 total yards of offense last Saturday. That meant keeping the opponent below 100 passing yards for the first time in 2023 (98 yards) and they also surrendered 162 rushing yards, 51 fewer than they allowed against Trinity in Week 2. The defensive front, led by Mason Cavness, is aggressive and gets into the backfield quickly, as was seen throughout the second half against Whitewater. Currently, UMHB’s defense leads the league in sacks, with seven. Sul Ross State and McMurry each have six.
Special teams has been a struggle at times, especially in the first two games, but looked sharper against Whitewater. Kicker Jack Bruner is a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts and returner Matthew Jackson has 122 kick return yards, including 75 against Whitewater.
3 Crusaders to watch
WR TJ Rone: A true freshman, Rone has sprung into the spotlight within UMHB’s offense, and enters Week 4 with a team-best 13 receptions. He tallied 184 receiving yards through the first three games, along with a touchdown against Whitewater, and has tremendous speed that serves him well when running deep routes. Look for Rone to pose a serious threat to McMurry’s secondary.
DE Myles Terry: Terry is a force on the defensive line, especially in pass rush, and ranks second on the team in sacks, with 2.0. His 5.5 tackles for loss is third amongst Crusader tacklers, and overall, a 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, he is a challenging matchup for opposing offensive linemen. With quickness and a hard-hitting ability, Terry recorded at least three solo tackles in each of UMHB’s first three games.
LB Durand Hill: A Preseason All-America selection by D3football.com, Hill leads The Cru with 26 total tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss. From his spot at linebacker, the junior is a key part of what UMHB does defensively and helped contain the Whitewater offense for much of last Saturday’s matchup, defending against both the run and the pass.
The Warhawks have had a little longer to prepare for this one, considering McMurry last took the field on Sept. 9, in a 53-2 win at Millsaps. That victory came on the heels of a 20-19 loss in Little Rock, Arkansas to Birmingham-Southern, a consistent middle-to-top tier team in the SAA. Under fifth-year head coach Jordan Neal, McMurry has already tied its win total from last season, in which they went 1-9, and is looking to take a step forward in its final year in the ASC.
Quarterback Jess Hoel has been a bright spot for an offense that struggled quite often throughout 2022, and through two games, Hoel has thrown for 563 yards. He commands the offense well, and the Warhawks typically prefer a balanced attack with a slight bent towards the passing game. In 2022, the Wahawks registered 332 running plays and 315 passing plays, and through this season’s first two games, McMurry ran the ball 64 times for 189 yards (positive yardage), while throwing it 78 times. Part of that was due to the sizable deficit the Warhawks faced in Week 1 against Birmingham-Southern, but also the overall style of McMurry’s offense, especially with an accurate quarterback. However, watch for the run near the goal line; seven of their 10 touchdowns this season have come on the ground.
On the defensive side, McMurry’s defense has performed well, allowing just 22 points through two games. The Warhawks are particularly strong in the secondary, led by defensive back Timothy Leatherman, and have five interceptions on the season. Four of those came against Millsaps, as the Majors threw for a mere 121 yards. The run defense has also held up well, ranking third in the ASC in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (108.5). One of the most impressive things shown by this Warhawk defense has been its ability to pick up third-down stops. Opponents are converting just 28.6 percent of third downs against McMurry, the second-lowest percentage in the ASC.
When it comes to special teams, McMurry has one of the ASC’s top kickers on its side in senior Jared Mendoza. The Fort Worth native has only recorded one field goal attempt this season, a 40-yarder against Millsaps, but through a four-year career with the Warhawks, he is 24-of-33 with a long of 50 yards. Mendoza is also averaging 57.9 yards per kickoff this season.
3 Warhawks to watch
QB Jess Hoel: The Navarro College transfer has given consistency to a position that was a bit of a wild card entering the fall, and has completed 67.6 percent of his passes through two games. He averages 281.5 passing yards per game, though three interceptions is a weak spot and something that needs to be cleaned up as conference play gets going.
WR Kristopher Martin: A senior from El Paso, Martin leads the team with 11 catches for 183 yards. A dynamic receiver, he is quick in space and a reliable target for Hoel downfield. Interestingly, both of McMurry’s leading receivers–Martin and sophomore Karmelus Card–played their prep careers at El Paso’s El Dorado High School.
LB Marshall Tovar: Tovar is a heads-up defender, and a force on McMurry’s defensive front. He enters this matchup with a team-high 3.0 tackles for loss, and has 2.0 sacks, while having also recovered a fumble against Millsaps. The Willow Park, Texas native tallied seven tackles through the first two games, four of which were solo tackles.
Follow the action
WATCH: Livestream available via UMHB Athletics on portal.stretchinternet.com/umhb.
LISTEN: Ward Whites and Jon Wallin will have the call once again over the airwaves in Temple/Belton on 93.9 FM
STATS: Live stats can be found through portal.stretchinternet.com/umhb.
True To The Cru will also be on the ground in Belton, covering all of the action. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for in-game updates, at @TrueToTheCru. Postgame coverage to come on TrueToTheCru.com.
ASC Week 2 Schedule (ASC Teams in Bold)
Friday, Sept. 22
Hardin-Simmons at Endicott, 6 p.m., Beverly, Massachusetts
Saturday, Sept. 23
Austin College at Crown College, 6 p.m., St. Bonifacius, Minnesota
McMurry at Mary Hardin-Baylor, 6 p.m., Belton, Texas