Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON-The second step.
That is how UMHB Football, ranked No. 22 in the nation, views Saturday’s matchup at Texas Lutheran in American Southwest Conference play. It is the second step in a series of seven conference matchups for The Cru, who are focused on winning the ASC title, and began that quest with a victory on Sept. 23, taking down McMurry, 50-9.
Both UMHB and TLU enter this contest with identical 1-3 records, as the two programs meet at Bulldog Stadium for the second straight season. We bring you players to watch, a look at the series history, detailed notes on both teams and how to follow the action in this week’s game preview presented by Navcon Group, LLC.
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All-Time Series History
UMHB is 21-1 all-time against the Bulldogs, having won all 20 games played between the two programs dating back to 2000. TLU’s lone win came on Nov. 13, 1999, when the Bulldogs pulled out a 34-24 victory in Seguin in UMHB’s second year as a program. The following year, UMHB returned to Seguin, and prevailed 42-28, beginning the 20-game win streak the Crusaders currently hold. In games played at TLU, UMHB is 9-1.
A look at The Cru
UMHB comes off an open week that followed the Crusaders’ first victory of the season over McMurry, 50-9, on Sept. 23. UMHB is off to a 1-0 start in conference play, and has six games remaining, four of which are on the road.
The offense has shown steady improvement week after week and the passing attack now ranks fourth in the league in yards per game (237.8). The Cru is also fourth in offensive efficiency and established the rushing attack more against McMurry, with 39 carries going for 134 yards. UMHB has been most successful in a balanced offensive system, with several playmakers having stepped up on that side of the ball through the first four games. 12 different players caught at least one pass against McMurry.
One of UMHB’s strongest points on offense has been in the red zone, where the Crusaders have come away with points on 84.2 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That percentage (16-of-19) is third-best in the ASC, with nine of those 16 scores being touchdowns.
Defensively, UMHB has made strides in each performance, and best exhibited that in the 17-14 loss to UW-Whitewater, holding the Warhawks to just seven points in the second half. Behind a strong pass rush and stellar defensive backs, the Crusaders rank No. 1 in the ASC in fewest passing yards allowed per game (173.5), and surrendered just seven passing touchdowns through their first four games. The run defense has been challenged at times against solid rushing attacks from UW-River Falls, Trinity, and UW-Whitewater, but the defensive front came up with a number of big plays against McMurry two weeks ago. That resulted in the Warhawks totaling just two rushing yards on 26 carries, with just 38 yards gained and 36 yards lost by McMurry.
3 Players to Watch
WR TJ Rone: A freshman, Rone has separated himself as one of the ASC’s quickest receivers this season, with 16 catches for 265 yards. His average of 66.3 yards per game is the seventh-best in the league, and Rone has two receiving touchdowns through four games. If Rone is matched up with TLU cornerback Jermario Thomas at any point, keep an eye out. Both are amongst the best in the conference at their respective positions.
LB Durand Hill: Hill is currently listed in the nation’s Top 50 amongst D-III players in tackles for loss per game, as the sophomore averages 1.6 TFL/game. His 34.0 total tackles leads The Cru and is fourth in the ASC. The Buda, Texas native is a force in both run and pass defense, and will be a tough matchup for TLU’s offense to contend with.
DB Trace Holmes: One of the Crusaders’ top defenders in the secondary, Holmes tallied two interceptions against McMurry, and is one of six players in the ASC with multiple interceptions this season. Holmes is also third on the team in tackles, with 22.0.
Scouting Texas Lutheran
Under the direction of veteran coach Neil LaHue, who is in his second year at the helm of the program, TLU has entered the 2023 season with a real chance at its first winning season (in a non-Covid year) since 2019. The Bulldogs went 4-6 last season, with ups and downs along the way, as LaHue took charge of the program.
Offense is certainly a strength under LaHue’s leadership, as his offensive mind might be best remembered by Austin-area fans from his days as Westlake High School’s offensive coordinator. There, he helped develop a young quarterback by the name of Drew Brees, and contributed greatly to Westlake’s first state title in 1996. Just last season, TLU had an All-America tight end on its roster, with Aaron Sotelo earning Third Team honors from D3football.com. The only game that Sotelo did not see action in was the 45-16 loss against UMHB.
Now in 2023, the offense has its strong points once again, with veteran starters in quarterback Seth Cosme, running backs DaKory Willis and Jacob Forton, and offensive linemen Andrew Gormly, Frankie Saucedo, and Landon West. Though the offense started slow last week at Sul Ross State, the Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points and tied the game at 34-34 late, before the Lobos edged TLU on a game-winning field goal. Don’t let the 1-3 record fool you. The Bulldogs kept up with nationally-ranked UW-Oshkosh on the road in Week 1, beat Southwestern easily, 39-7 in Week 2, and fell to NAIA Ave Maria in Week 3, 27-14. They have stayed competitive in all of their games, but inconsistencies have challenged TLU throughout the first half of the season.
Defensively, TLU allowed 29.8 points per game through its first four contests, having allowed the most rushing yards per game of any ASC team (195.5) and the second-most passing yards (221.5). That said, defensive back Jermario Thomas is likely to be in contention for ASC Defensive Player of the Year, and senior linebacker David Augustin is a key force for the TLU defensive front. There is talent for TLU on that side of the ball; it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
3 Players To Watch
QB Seth Cosme: The senior has been generally consistent for TLU through his last three seasons as starting quarterback, and is known as an efficient passer, especially on short-yardage plays. In 2023, the Angleton, Texas product is 70-of-114 on passing attempts (61.4%), with 783 yards. Cosme does have two touchdown passes to his credit, but five interceptions, four of which came against SRSU, is something that he will be looking to improve on.
WR Jacob Wallace: A go-to target for Cosme in the passing game, Wallace has 21 receptions, which is tied for third-best in the ASC. The junior transfer from D-II Western New Mexico had a season-best nine catches for 122 yards in the Bulldogs’ Week 2 win over Southwestern.
DB Jermario Thomas: The sophomore cornerback is the ASC’s leader in interceptions, with four on the year. He also leads the league in passes defended, with three pass breakups in addition to his interceptions. A transfer from Texas Wesleyan, Thomas is quick to the ball, and at 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, has the size to go toe-to-toe with the top receivers in the ASC.
Additional Reading before kickoff
Follow the Action
LISTEN: Ward Whites and Jon Wallin will have the call once again over the airwaves in Temple/Belton on 93.9 FM
LIVE STATS: TLU Stretch Internet
True To The Cru will be in Seguin, covering all of the action. Stay tuned on X/Twitter and Facebook (@TrueToTheCru) for updates throughout the contest. We will also have a post game article and a photo gallery shortly after the conclusion of the contest on TrueToTheCru.com.
ASC Schedule (ASC opponents in bold)
ETBU at Howard Payne, 1 p.m., Brownwood, Texas
Sul Ross State at Austin, 1 p.m., Sherman, Texas
UMHB at Texas Lutheran, 1 p.m., Seguin, Texas
Hardin-Simmons at McMurry, 6 p.m., Abilene, Texas
Note: Though Sul Ross State is technically in the ASC, the Lobos are transitioning to NCAA D-II, and therefore, games against SRSU do not count towards the ASC standings.