Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON-It took time for a consistent rhythm to form, but once No. 23 UMHB (1-3, 1-0 ASC) kicked it into high gear in the third quarter, the Crusaders had little trouble emerging from Saturday night’s American Southwest Conference opener with a victory.
Under the lights of Crusader Stadium, with a large contingent of UMHB alumni on hand, the Crusaders took down ASC foe McMurry (1-2, 0-1 ASC), 50-9, in the final meeting between the two programs as conference opponents.
“We’ve got six more games left before the playoffs,” defensive back Trace Holmes, who had two interceptions, said postgame. “We have to keep going. This is the start of it.”
Quarterback Isaac Phe threw for 232 yards. The offense as a whole had 432 yards, a season-high. The defense tallied three interceptions, and held McMurry to a net of just two rushing yards. All were positive signs for a team that entered the matchup with an 0-3 record. But for a squad that has postseason aspirations, they did not come away completely satisfied.
“It wasn’t like the game was ever in question or we didn’t feel like we had control of it,” UMHB head coach Larry Harmon said postgame. “[But] we have expectations. And we expect to be dominant.
“I don’t mean that to knock McMurry. I just feel like this program is at a place where we should be able to go out, execute, have fun and put things away early. I didn’t feel like we did that in the first half.”
Indeed, McMurry hung within reach for most of the first half, with the UMHB lead at 13-3 heading into the final minute of the second quarter. A rushing touchdown from Kenneth Cormier Jr. with nine seconds left in the quarter expanded the advantage to 17.
The third quarter one of the strong points, though; a span of time in which UMHB both shut out the Warhawks and scored 10 points. The offense also began a drive with 1:39 left, and completed it early in the fourth, with Ozias Wright finding the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown that made it 37-3.
“We wanted to be the best team in the stadium and we did that,” Harmon said. “We wanted to make sure that we took a step forward. And I thought we did that in the third quarter.”
In the third quarter alone, Phe threw for 100 yards, completing six of his eight passes to four different receivers.
“He’s doing a tremendous job and there’s no question what a leader and competitor he is,” Harmon said of Phe. “We’ll get the rest cleaned up. He played a really solid third quarter. In fact, I didn’t think there was anything he did incorrectly. He even switched some protections and switched some people around. There was growth from halftime.”
Phe had a similar thought postgame, noting that he had his struggles through the first two quarters. But once he and the offense settled in and adjusted to McMurry’s defense, the result was a 30-point second half. Additionally, over half of his 232 passing yards came on completions to freshman TJ Rone, who tallied 119 yards on four catches. Phe found Rone in stride with 8:53 left in the first quarter for a 24-yard touchdown that gave The Cru a 10-0 lead.
“[The connection] has definitely developed in the past two games that I played with him,” Phe said of playing with Rone. “It just comes back to practicing, getting more reps with him, and building more chemistry with the receivers. The chemistry [between] him and I has been astronomical.”
The defensive effort set the Crusader offense up with favorable field position on a handful of occasions, which contributed to the second-half success. Five of McMurry’s eight second-half possessions ended in punts. While a handful of offsides penalties kept the Warhawk offense on the field for longer than Harmon and his staff would have liked at various points, the overall performance was commendable.
“We’re really talented on defense,” Harmon noted. “I think our D-Line is superb. We’ve got two linebackers as good as anybody in the conference, or in Division III, period. And I think our secondaries are coming around to gain some confidence and understanding of what we’re trying to do.
“I fully expect our defense to be able to hold people to 13 points or less. That’s my expectation. And so when we do things like jump offsides, and we don’t understand game situations and get beat on hard counts, that’s frustrating. But that’s also coaching and we have to do a better job as coaches to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The punt return unit saw plenty of action, and delivered in a notable way. Perhaps the biggest punt return play for The Cru came midway through the third quarter, as UMHB led 23-3. After turning the ball over on downs on their first drive, and finishing the second drive with a 28-yard field goal from Jack Bruner, the defense forced a McMurry punt.
Kenneth Miller Jr. fielded Jesse Rampy’s low kick at the Crusader 39-yard line, then turned up field and launched into a full-on sprint up the right sideline. When the Warhawks finally pushed him out of bounds, Miller was at the McMurry 7-yard line, having returned the punt 54 yards.
It set up a 12-yard touchdown from Phe to Romello Cook two plays later, as UMHB extended its lead to 30-3.
“That’s who we are at this point in time,” Harmon said. “We’re a team that needs to play great defense, get some turnovers to give our offense a short field, and then our offense has to grind it out.”
The shortest field UMHB had came late in the second quarter, on the aforementioned rushing score with nine seconds left in the half. It proved to be a key play, as McMurry forced a UMHB punt and took possession with just 45 seconds remaining. Backed up deep in their own territory, the Warhawks opted for a passing play with less than 25 seconds left. McMurry quarterback Jess Hoel lost his handle on the ball as he looked downfield, and Dorian Pittman recovered the fumble for The Cru on the McMurry 3-yard line. Cormier’s three-yard score provided necessary positive momentum heading into halftime, as the Crusader offense capitalized on a forced turnover.
“That’s why we call timeouts,” Harmon said, with UMHB having used a timeout just before the play, stopping the clock to give the offense a chance for one last possession before halftime. “I wanted to give our punt return team a chance to get a return and set us up. We got a turnover. That’s why you always make them take another snap.”
UMHB heads into a bye week next Saturday, before resuming its conference schedule in Seguin, Texas, against Texas Lutheran. TLU is 1-2 overall this season. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a break in the schedule. But ultimately, UMHB is seeking continued improvement as it moves forward.
“It’s good for a few of our guys that are banged up,” Harmon said when asked if the bye week comes at the right time. “I think we’ll get some people back for TLU that we didn’t have tonight. But I’m concerned about not having a game Saturday with the way we played the first half tonight. We really have to be smart in how we practice and make sure that there’s a ton of competition.”
UMHB Stat Leaders
Passing: Isaac Phe (16/27, 232 yards, 2 TD)
Rushing: Ozias Wright (7 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD)
Receiving: TJ Rone (4 receptions, 119 yards, 1 TD)
Tackles: Durand Hill (8 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup)
Kicking: Jack Bruner (3/5 FGs, Long of 45 yards)