BELTON — Heading into its American Southwest Conference opener at home Saturday night against Sul Ross State, Mary Hardin-Baylor has won 37 consecutive regular-season games and eight straight league titles.
The one constant through it all has been a stingy defense that shows no signs of letting up.
The Crusaders (3-0) rank fifth in the country in total defense (179.3 yards per game), 12th in points allowed (9.0) and first against the run (15.7 yards). The unit’s production hasn’t slipped a bit without linebacker Javicz Jones, who was last year’s national defensive player of the year as a senior.
“We knew since we started that somebody would have to step up. Someone had to emerge as the guy that everybody looks to for leadership,” UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday. “Silvio Diaz is doing a nice job of that. Cody Jones is. Brodrick Crain is. Korey Steward and Andy McAteer are.”
In last week’s 35-7 victory over fifth-ranked Wesley (Del.), McAteer had seven tackles — two for losses — from his linebacker spot. Crain, a cornerback, had six stops and broke up three passes. And Diaz and Steward combined for nine tackles, three for losses, to anchor the line.
Also aiding the defense’s cause is freshman end Teidrick Smith, who’s third on the team with 16 tackles to go with three sacks in the first three games of his college career.
“We got very fortunate with Teidrick. That was out of the blue,” Fredenburg said. “We knew he was a talented player, but he is really good.”
The defense allowed only 105 yards and the special teams were much improved in last week’s win, but Fredenburg saw some things he didn’t like — mainly three turnovers by sophomore quarterback Zach Anderson in his first start.
“Zach needs to take care of the ball. Two interceptions and a fumble, you can’t do that,” the coach said. “But he brings some excitement. I think our guys are responding to him.”
Turnovers aside, Anderson threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and ran for 61 yards and two scores. It was enough to earn him the ASC Offensive Player of the Week honor.
“We made some mistakes on both sides of the ball, but we played at a fever pitch,” Fredenburg said. “You can make some mistakes and recover when you play as hard and as fast as we did.”
In the inaugural game at Crusader Stadium, the Crusaders warmed up in one set of uniforms then went in and changed into new duds before coming out for kickoff.
“The players had no idea about the new uniforms,” Fredenburg said. “They came in from warming up, and it was so much fun to see their reaction to it.
“I was concerned because I don’t like chaos. I like it a little more organized, and it was chaos trying to get that stuff on. But they were having fun.”
Another change coming
Anyone who was part of the record turnout at Crusader Stadium probably noticed that the scoreboard section of the video board disappeared after most possession changes and all scoring plays, replaced by commercials.
According to Fredenburg, that won’t be the case anymore.
“We have already addressed that and it will be fixed,” he said.
Moving on up
UMHB is ranked No. 2 in the season’s first coaches poll, which was released Monday.
The Crusaders received four first-place votes and are ranked behind only defending national champion Mount Union (Ohio), which was first on the other 38 ballots. Linfield (Ore.), North Central (Ill.) and Hobart (N.Y.) round out the top five. UMHB also moved up a spot to No. 3 in the D3football.com poll, behind top-ranked Mount Union and Linfield.
Around the ASC
Louisiana College’s 34-27 loss to Huntingdon (Ala.) over the weekend leaves UMHB and East Texas Baptist — a 56-10 winner over startup program Southwestern — as the ASC’s only unbeaten teams. That could change Saturday when ETBU hosts Willamette (Ore.), which opened the season with a 64-34 win over ASC member Hardin-Simmons.