Photo of Larry Harmon by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON–For the first time in quite a while, UMHB Football is faced with an uncomfortable situation: playing out the remainder of the season with playoff hopes erased.
2003 was the last time The Cru did not reach the postseason, meaning that several of the players on the current roster were not even born the last time that UMHB was left out of the playoff field. And the Crusaders are also unranked in the D3football.com Top 25. It marks the first time since the poll began in 2003, 256 polls to be exact, that UMHB is not included.
Yet, as UMHB head coach Larry Harmon pointed out at his press conference on Monday, the final two weeks of the season hold significance from an overall program standpoint.
It has been well-documented that in the days following the season-ending loss to Texas Lutheran in 1999, the program faced a crossroads. Several accomplished players quickly left what was then a second-year program. But those who stayed established what is now known as “The Code of The Cru”; a commitment to excellence on and off the field.
In 2003, UMHB missed the playoffs in a 9-1 season that included a loss to ETBU. A year later, the Crusaders not only went to the postseason; they went all the way to the national title game for the first time.
20 years later, it appears the program is in a similar position once again. Harmon is searching for leadership within the team. Young talent seems to give confidence for the future, and UMHB has two weeks to end its 2023 season with an upward trajectory before sights turn to 2024.
With that said, here are three takeaways from Harmon’s weekly presser on Monday.
“I was really embarrassed how we lost the game”: Responding to Saturday’s loss
Many of the questions in the hours following the loss surrounded what the response would be from the coaching staff and the team alike. It was a significant loss, and more than just falling to Hardin-Simmons, the disappointment came in the fact that UMHB had eight more first downs, 403 yards of offense to HSU’s 273, and ran 76 plays to the Cowboys’ 57. UMHB also held possession for nearly five minutes more than HSU.
But 14 penalties for 113 yards came back to bite the Crusaders in a few different instances, particularly the 15-yard personal foul penalties. Harmon addressed that aspect of the loss early on in the press conference.
“We came back and had a team meeting,” Harmon noted. “I was just really embarrassed how we lost the game. When you dominate the stats in every category and you lose because a few calls went against you, and you had a little adversity and you decide to have fake bravado, and be tough, and get stupid penalties, and act like a victim, that’s very embarrassing.
“I’m embarrassed for the university, our program, how my team acted, and they’re a reflection of me. I had a meeting and made sure that everybody understood that we weren’t going to do that again. So one personal foul and you’re going to be on the sideline or you’re going to be off in the locker room. Everybody understands. We’re going to push forward these next two weeks.”
Taking advantage of opportunities to prep for the future against ETBU and HPU
While the playoffs are out of the picture, the Crusaders’ final two contests of the regular season hold importance for the immediate future of the program. UMHB hosts ETBU on senior day at Crusader Stadium this Saturday before concluding the slate at Howard Payne on Nov. 11.
Harmon talked about both giving the current seniors an opportunity to finish their careers with a winning record as well as finding firm leadership as two objectives in these last two weeks.
“Our guys took some ownership and they’re going to play these next two weeks out for the seniors,” Harmon said. “Obviously, we need to develop some leadership. I don’t necessarily think it has to be the guys that are in the leadership roles right now, because quite honestly, some of those guys were the reason that our emotions went high [against HSU]. And they added gasoline to the fire more than calming things down.
“I’m really on the search for who’s going to rise and who’s going to bow their neck. Who’s going to say, ‘Enough is enough and we’re going to right the ship’ as far as leadership. We had 32 freshmen or sophomores of the 60 that we took [to Abilene]. We get a great opportunity to get two weeks of experience with them.”
Recruiting earlier than usual in the winter
One aspect of UMHB’s unusually early end to the season that could end up being a positive is the fact that the Crusader coaching staff will have a chance to be on the road during the Texas High School Football playoffs, rather than beginning in-person recruiting after Christmas. Harmon said that most recruiting during the fall months is done via phone, unless it is a local recruit, due to the day-to-day demands of game preparation.
“It’s a benefit to get out and start building relationships with these guys,” Harmon said. “That will help you land a few more kids that we’ve kind of been missing out on. So I think there’s some benefits to that. It is what it is. [Our] coaches know that we’re going to bow our necks and roll our sleeves up and go to work. We know how important recruiting is to this program.”