BELTON — With 6:42 left in the first quarter of a scoreless tie on Saturday at Crusader Stadium, a short University of Redlands punt gave UMHB the football on its own 45-yard line.
This was the second possession for the Crusaders in this first-round NCAA Division III playoff contest. On its first series, UMHB went three-and-out, two of those plays incomplete passes.
The Crusaders have two first-team all-conference linemen, left tackle Montana Duncan and left guard Josh Holt. UMHB offensive coordinator Jeff Shinn chose to bank on seniors Duncan, Holt and their fellow offensive linemen.
Shinn called for a run on first down. Then he called for another run. Then another run. And another run. The next play was a run. Then came another run. Then: run, run, run, run, run and run.
That’s 12 plays total, 12 runs, and the final carry was a 2-yard scoring plunge by running back Elijah Hudson giving the Cru a 7-0 lead.
Postgame, Holt said, “Our coach was basically saying to us on that drive, ‘Go get it! We’ve got confidence in you!’ I loved that he called all runs that entire drive.”
“I felt that drive was the major turning point in this game,” said Duncan. “It gave us the confidence that we could just pound the ball and run it. That drive was huge. On that drive we made a statement: We’re domi-
nant and we can move the ball.”
The whole offensive line deserves kudos for that game-changing drive but Duncan and Holt were especially dominant; the duo kept delivering pulverizing, bone-shattering blocks.
“Josh Holt and I have bonded over the years,” said the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Duncan. “We’re seniors and we block well together. We’re like brothers. It’s a special thing when you have a senior playing right beside you that wants to dominate everybody you go against — as much as I want to dominate.”
Still ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter, UMHB faced fourth-and-goal at Redlands 2-yard line. The heck with the field goal. Pass? What for? The Cru offensive line didn’t shout out to Redlands, “Hey, by the way, we’re running again this play.”
But they could have.
Holt, Duncan and junior center Sterling Cantue moved the Redlands defensive line back and then UMHB sophomore right guard Carlos Cuellar absolutely flattened a linebacker, and Hudson followed Cuellar into the end zone, upping the lead to 14-0.
With 27 seconds left in the third quarter, UMHB up 28-7, and the Crusaders owning possession 68 yards from paydirt, Duncan, Holt and Cantue completely sealed off the left side of the field with some spectacular blocks, and sophomore quarterback Zach Anderson scampered the full 68 yards without being touched.
And that play sealed the win.
“Our whole offensive line was really clicking today,” said Duncan. “Both (junior linemen) Michael Mooneyham and Jose Ostos did real well, too. As an offensive line, we wanted to run that ball all day.”
Which, essentially, is what they did.
In this 35-7 victory, UMHB had 67 plays from scrimmage and 54 of them were runs. The Crusaders gained 69 yards on their 13 passing attempts. On the ground, UMHB gained a whopping 317 yards, averaging 5.6 per carry.
Pregame, both Duncan and Holt (5-11, 260) each shared an annoying, but nonetheless realistic, thought: that this particular Saturday could have been the last day of their collegiate careers.
“I think you have to keep that thought in your head,” said Holt. “It’s the playoffs and it’s win or go home time. But we had a great week of practice and were determined to play like there was no tomorrow — so we could create another tomorrow for us.”
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Hey, if we don’t take care of business, it could be all over for us’ — which would be a huge disappointing deal to me,” said Duncan. “It feels great that we got this win, get to keep playing, and our careers aren’t over.”
The Crusaders host Rowan of New Jersey on Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.
And Duncan and Holt each want to make one thing clear.
They don’t plan on their collegiate careers ending this Saturday either.
Allan Mandell is sports editor of the Killeen Daily Herald. He can be reached at 254-501-7566.