After an open week and a road trip to Seguin, 22nd-ranked UMHB Football is back at Crusader Stadium for the second-to-last time in the 2023 regular season, hosting Sul Ross State. Though the contest will not count towards the American Southwest Conference standings, due to SRSU being in the process of moving up to NCAA Division II, it will be the final time these two programs meet as conference rivals, which adds a little more meaning to the matchup. UMHB is also looking to extend its winning streak to three games, after a strong start to ASC play.
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All-Time Series History
UMHB has dominated this series, winning all 22 meetings between the Crusaders and Lobos, dating back to a 28-25 win in Belton in 1998. The Cru is 10-0 in games played on their home turf, outscoring SRSU 147-52 in the three meetings at Crusader Stadium. Interestingly, this will be just the fourth time the two teams match up inside Crusader Stadium, as four of the last seven contests have been in Alpine.
A look at The Cru
UMHB comes off a positive performance on the road at Texas Lutheran, in which the offense displayed exceptional balance between consistency with both the run and pass, racking up 522 yards of total offense. The 55-21 victory moves the Crusaders to 2-0 in ASC play with four conference games remaining on the regular season slate.
Quarterback Isaac Phe has made tremendous strides within the last several games, and tossed a collegiate-best four touchdown passes at TLU last week. Through five games played, four of those in which he has started, Phe’s completion percentage sits at 57.5 percent, along with 867 passing yards and a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (9 TDs, 3 INTs). Phe’s success has mirrored the overall development of the offense, whose improvement has been noted within the last several weeks. Against both McMurry and TLU, the Crusaders reached the 50-point mark, and UMHB now ranks fourth in the ASC in passing yards per game (235.8) and fourth in rushing (120.0).
Defensively, despite having a young group on the defensive line, UMHB tallied multiple sacks in each of its last two games and has recorded nine or more tackles for loss in four of its five contests this season. The Cru boasts the No. 1 passing defense in the ASC (158.4 yards/game), and that was shown last week, as TLU mustered just 98 yards through the air.
On special teams, kicker Jack Bruner is 7-for-9 on field goal attempts, with two coming in the 40-49 yard range. His seven field goals are the most made by any kicker in the conference this season. Kenneth Miller Jr. and Matthew Jackson handle most of the kick and punt return duties and they do it well; UMHB’s average of 14.6 yards per punt return is the best in the ASC.
3 Players To Watch
RB Ozias Wright: Wright goes up against his former team in this matchup, and he does it after establishing his presence in each of UMHB’s first two ASC matchups. Against McMurry, he tallied 72 yards on eight carries and scored a touchdown. Last week, an 86-yard touchdown run highlighted his performance, as he racked up 157 yards on eight carries. A strong, agile runner, Wright is another talented running back that adds to UMHB’s depth at the position, as Kenneth Cormier Jr. and Kenneth Miller Jr. are also helping The Cru’s rushing attack gain traction.
WR Jerry Day Jr.: Day comes off a three-touchdown day against TLU, and is now tied for the team lead in receptions, with 16. He has 188 yards, with 76 of those coming in last week’s victory. With his vertical leaping ability, Day is very tough for opponents to defend, especially in the end zone, as he gets in perfect position to high-point the ball and pull in the pass above the defender. It is easy to see why he is also a guard on UMHB’s men’s basketball team…the skill set fits well in both sports.
LB Durand Hill: Most know of Hill by now, as his talent at the linebacker position is known nationally. But keep an eye on the Buda, Texas native as it relates to UMHB’s defense against the SRSU pass. Hill’s athleticism allows him to reach the ball quickly, as he did in his interception-turned-touchdown at TLU, and cause trouble for opposing offenses, especially on short routes towards the middle of the field. He is also UMHB’s leading tackler and has 9.5 tackles for loss–the most of any player in the ASC.
Scouting the Lobos
SRSU started a bit slow in its final year in D-III, with an 0-2 start against a pair of D-II programs in Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico. But since that point, the Lobos are on a three-game win streak, with victories over Wayland Baptist, Texas Lutheran, and Austin College. In that three-game span, SRSU has outscored its opposition, 123-48, as the defense has limited the opponent to just seven points in two of those contests.
But starting on the offensive side, the Lobos are led by quarterback Andrew Martinez, who is in his first season as the full-time starter after seeing limited action in 2022. The El Paso native has thrown for 1,194 yards and 10 touchdowns, along with 10 interceptions. That is the highest interception total of any ASC quarterback, though Martinez is also tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with HPU’s Landon McKinney.
The passing game has proven to be a valuable asset to SRSU’s success as of late, with the Lobos averaging 255.6 yards per game through the air. It is the third-best average in the ASC. SRSU’s offense is also No. 2 in the league in its third down conversion rate, producing first downs on 40 percent of its third-down attempts.
The defense, with a number of solid transfers, has shown steady improvement, though there is certainly still room to grow. The Lobos are sixth in rushing defense, having surrendered 144.2 yards per game on the ground, but are strong against the pass, allowing the second-fewest passing yards per contest (195.6). Six of the projected starters on that side of the ball are seniors, including linebacker Jade Rios, who leads the ASC in tackles.
On special teams, punt returner Vicente Luevano has the capability for returns of significant yardage, and will be a player to watch out for both on offense (at wide receiver) and in the punting game. Last week at Austin College, Luevano returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Chris Ruiz handles kicking duties for SRSU, and is a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts, with four coming in the 30-39 yard range.
3 Players To Watch
WR Isaiah Pena: A sophomore, Pena is SRSU’s go-to in the passing game, with tremendous athleticism and speed. The El Paso native leads the team in receptions, with 25, and receiving yardage (418 yds). If SRSU finds success through the air, it is almost a given that Pena will be involved, as he has pulled in at least four passes in each of the Lobos’ last four games.
LB Jade Rios: Rios is force to be reckoned with, having tallied 35 solo tackles thus far. He is key in both SRSU’s run and pass defense, and at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, has a blend of strength and speed that serves the Lobo defense well. The San Antonio product also enters this game with 3.0 tackles for loss.
DB Quincy Blair: A safety from Missouri City, Texas, Blair has demonstrated a stellar playmaking ability throughout this season. Against Texas Lutheran, he returned an interception for a touchdown, and last week at Austin College, the junior intercepted a pass late in the first quarter and returned it 33 yards upfield. The SRSU offense took possession on the AC 7-yard line, and scored 38 seconds later. He also has 21 solo tackles, which ranks second behind Rios on the SRSU defense.
WATCH: Broadcast on cruathletics.com.
LISTEN: Ward Whites and Jon Wallin will once again have the call over the airwaves in Temple/Belton at 93.9 FM or at listen.streamon.fm/ktonam.
LIVE STATS: Stats can be found on cruathletics.com.
True To The Cru will be in Belton, covering all of the action, both through writing and photos. Stay tuned for a postgame article on TrueToTheCru.com as well as a high-quality photo gallery from True To The Cru’s team of photographers. Be sure to follow us on X/Twitter and Facebook for in-game updates.
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Week 7 ASC Schedule
Texas Lutheran at No. 20 Hardin-Simmons, 1:00 p.m., Abilene, Texas
Sul Ross State at No. 22 UMHB, 1:00 p.m., Belton, Texas
McMurry at ETBU, 1:00 p.m., Marshall, Texas
Austin at Howard Payne, 2:00 p.m., Brownwood, Texas