BROWNWOOD, Texas- UMHB Football closed its 2023 season with a solid victory on the road Saturday afternoon, keeping the potent Howard Payne offense out of the end zone in a 35-10 victory.
UMHB gained a 21-0 lead midway through the opening quarter, and kept a double-digit advantage intact behind strong defense and several forced turnovers. The Crusaders tallied four sacks, a pair of interceptions, and a fumble recovery, while the offense came through with a number of quick scores.
Crusaders quarterback Isaac Phe completed 15 passes for 194 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception. His first season as UMHB’s starting quarterback concludes with 1,738 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and just five interceptions.
Jerry Cephus tallied a team-best four receptions, while AJ Williams and Jerry Day Jr. each added three catches. Williams pulled in a pair of touchdown passes, finishing with a team-high 65 receiving yards.
Dorian Pittman paced the defensive effort, as the defensive lineman had 2.5 tackles for loss and a total of four tackles in the contest. Johnny Smith-Rider finished with five solo tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception.
The game got off to a favorable start for UMHB just three plays in, when Landon McKinney’s first pass was intercepted by Crusader defensive lineman Mason Cavness. Cavness sprinted 26 yards to the HPU 3-yard line, setting up the eventual one-yard touchdown run from Kenneth Cormier.
Another quick drive from UMHB extended the advantage to 14-0 just over five minutes into the contest, as Ozias Wright ran for 11 yards before Phe completed a 10-yard pass to Williams. Then came the 33-yard strike to Williams on the very next play, giving UMHB’s its second touchdown of the game.
That score came with 9:58 in the first quarter. Three straight incomplete passes from the HPU offense put the ball back in the hands of Phe and he went to work. It took one play–a 30-yard pass to Stanley Asiegbu–for the lead to become 21-0. With 9:21 in the opening quarter, UMHB had run a total of nine plays, and already led by three scores.
Then came an eight-play, 70-yard drive from the Yellow Jackets. It was the first drive McKinney and HPU sustained in the opening quarter, and resulted in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Casey Dufner that cut into the large Crusader advantage.
Michael Fields’ 37-yard field goal attempt cleared the uprights for HPU with 11:24 in the second quarter, which brought about the 21-10 halftime score.
But the play of the first half was perhaps the most controversial play of the opening two quarters as well. It was the difference in UMHB taking an 18-point lead into halftime or an 11-point lead, as Smith-RIder’s pick-six was called back with 5:27 left in the second.
With HPU threatening on the UMHB 19-yard line, aiming to cut the Crusader lead to 21-17, McKinney threw a pass in the direction of receiver Deon Collins. But Collins was unable to pull in the pass, which was instead controlled by Smith-RIder near the UMHB 15-yard line. The UMHB linebacker took the ball the distance, sprinting up the sideline for a touchdown.
But the seven points never made their way onto the board. The interception counted, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on HPU’s Gus Charles–the result of Charles throwing a punch according to the HPU broadcast–and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on UMHB’s Trace Holmes, wiped away the return. The controversy came in that the penalties were after the play, and as a result “dead ball” penalties.
But UMHB pushed past it, and into the second half.
The Crusaders picked back up where it left off in the third quarter, as HPU drove to the UMHB 15-yard line but came away scoreless as Fields’ 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Trashawn Adams. HPU’s next possession also ended scoreless, as Smith-Rider recovered a McKinney fumble, resulting in yet another takeaway for the Crusader defense.
Smith-Rider’s recovery led to Phe’s third score of the afternoon, finding Williams for a 22-yard touchdown in a two-play drive. In the contest, four of UMHB’s five scoring drives spanned four plays or fewer.
With 9:36 left in the fourth quarter, Phe completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Cephus, capping UMHB’s scoring effort with his fourth touchdown of the afternoon.
The major story of the second half, however, was the defensive performance. The Yellow Jackets had only been shutout in the second half once before, against Austin College in a 35-11 win. But against UMHB, HPU recorded just 118 yards of offense in the second half, including a mere 27 in the fourth quarter.
Though HPU finished with 20 first downs, 14 via passing plays, UMHB’s defense kept the Yellow Jackets outside of scoring range for the majority of the contest. HPU made it past UMHB’s 40-yard line just once in the second half, on the drive that ended with Adams’ blocked field goal.
The win ends UMHB’s 2023 season with a 6-4 record, and a 5-1 mark in ASC play.