Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
SEGUIN- Everything seemed to be in rhythm for No. 22 UMHB on Saturday afternoon, especially when it came to the offensive performance.
Coming out of a bye week, the Crusaders imposed their will in their fourth road matchup of the year, taking down Texas Lutheran, 55-21. The victory gives UMHB consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Said UMHB head coach Larry Harmon, “I thought that how we prepared for this with our CRU week last week, how we broke it down, how we went about our business proved that it was better than what we did last year.”
522 yards of offense was certainly one of those visible signs, as UMHB gained a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, and led by as many as 48 points late in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Isaac Phe tossed a career-high four touchdown passes, three of which were caught by Jerry Day, who finished with a season-best eight receptions.
“We had a good week of practice,” Day commented postgame. “The offense is coming together. You don’t win championships in one day. We’re still building and still working. We have trust and faith in our coaches to prepare us and keep us on the right track.”
The passing game totaled 228 yards for The Cru, as Jackson Tingler added 75 yards through the air on eight completions and a touchdown in the second half. Seven different players had at least two receptions on the day, as the ball was distributed evenly, and constantly kept the TLU defense on its toes.
Receiver Gabriel Adewusi tallied the first catches of his career, finishing with three for 32 yards, and freshman tight end Christopher Gacayan recorded a collegiate-best two receptions along with his first career touchdown, on UMHB’s final scoring play of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
But the passing game was only half of the equation when it came to the Crusaders’ offensive success against the Bulldogs. UMHB also established the run game against TLU more than it had in any of its previous four contests, rushing for a season-high 294 yards. It is the first time UMHB has run for 290 yards or more since the Oct. 22, 2022 win over Sul Ross State, when The Cru had 302.
“It’s huge,” Harmon said of establishing the run, and how it helped open up the passing game. “When your safeties are in there at nine yards and having to fill the run, that’s a bad feeling. No defensive coordinator likes that.”
With TLU’s secondary playing closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop the running game, UMHB found plenty of opportunities through the air. On the Crusaders’ first drive of the third quarter, UMHB began its possession with a 27-yard run from Kenneth Cormier Jr., and then a reverse running play to Kenneth Miller Jr. that was followed by a seven-yard pass to Jerry Cephus. After alternating between the run and the pass on the next six plays, Phe found Day open on the right side of the field with UMHB facing fourth down. TLU seemed to be anticipating another run up the middle to Cormier, as TLU’s Jermario Thomas was the only Bulldog defender in the vicinity when Day pulled in the pass. Day stutter-stepped before beating Thomas into the end zone, extending the lead to 41-7.
Cormier had 34 yards on that 10-play drive, and altogether excelled against TLU’s defense. He averaged 9.9 yards per carry on nine rushing attempts, showing a special combination of speed and strength that had not been showcased all that often in UMHB’s first four games. In fact, it was the most yards the senior had in a single game since Sept. 25, 2021 in a win over Hardin-Simmons.
In addition to Cormier’s performance on the ground, Ozias Wright finished with a team-high 157 yards and was responsible for UMHB’s longest play of the afternoon; an 86-yard rushing touchdown that saw him take the ball at the Crusader 14-yard line, and outsprint the entire TLU secondary in a footrace to the end zone.
For as much as plays like that one brought momentum to the visitors from Belton, the defense also made more than a handful of plays that had a similar effect. TLU’s offense put 31 points on the board against a solid UW-Oshkosh team, but against The Cru, the Bulldogs struggled to move the football. It was not until early in the second quarter that TLU even crossed past midfield. The Bulldogs finished with 230 yards of total offense.
With starting quarterback Seth Cosme unavailable, backup Caden Bosanko earned the start, and held his own, though he took three sacks in the backfield. Bosanko also threw the game’s lone interception, a pass that was picked off by UMHB linebacker Durand Hill with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.
And Hill did not hesitate. Playing just a few miles from his hometown of Buda, Hill raced in the other direction, and scored a touchdown, giving The Cru a 34-7 halftime lead. It was key considering UMHB’s fake punt attempt failed just one play prior, which set the Bulldogs up with the ball, just 34 yards from the end zone.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Harmon said of Hill. “He really stepped up big when we needed him to step up big. He’s capable of making those plays every single snap.”
Momentum-building plays, such as Hill’s interception, came in sizable quantities for The Cru in Seguin. Look no further than Jack Bruner’s successful fake punt in the first quarter. Seeing an opportunity after two incompletions and a five-yard run, Bruner, a punter/kicker by trade, took the snap in punt formation before sprinting down the right sideline. He was knocked out of bounds hard, but gained 20 yards, showcasing remarkable speed in the process as TLU was caught off guard. One play later, UMHB was in the end zone, with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Phe to Day.
“I thought our kids did an incredible job with energy,” Harmon said. “They did a great job knowing that they had a job to do and business to take care of.”
UMHB now looks ahead to its sixth contest of the year, and third inside Crusader Stadium. Sul Ross State comes to Belton at 1 p.m. next Saturday, and the Crusaders, with an increased confidence, will continue their quest towards the conference title.
Said Harmon: “We’ve got plenty of skill. But [earlier this season], we weren’t able to get the ball to the receivers because we were getting hit. Just [having] discussions, with Coach Padron, the staff, and I, meeting together and talking about, ‘How are we going to do this? We can’t do it exactly like we did it last year.’
“I really tip my hat to Andy and the offensive staff. They came up with a great plan. It was pretty simple to execute. And we were able to just turn loose and play fast.”