BELTON — Crusader Stadium lived up to its hype and then some Saturday night.
And as it turns out, the same can be said for the football team that calls the palatial new venue its home.
Fourth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor stonewalled rival Wesley (Del.) at every turn and announced that it indeed still belongs among the country’s elite with a 35-7 thumping of the fifth-ranked Wolverines in the inaugural game at rollicking Crusader Stadium.
After 15 seasons of games in a high school stadium while they built the program into a perennial NCAA Division III power, the Crusaders (3-0) opened their state-of-the-art, on-campus home with a statement-making victory over one their biggest nemesis.
“If you couldn’t play at a fever pitch tonight, I don’t know how you ever could,” said Pete Fredenburg, the only coach in the 16-year history of the UMHB program. “This place rocked. It was a special night.”
Months of anticipation and weeks of hype had an overflow crowd of 9,384
fans on its feet at kickoff, and the Crusaders didn’t disappoint.
Sophomore quarterback Zach Anderson raced 40 yards around right end for the first touchdown in stadium history, and the Crusaders were off and running.
“We knew about the history of the rivalry, and (Wesley was) playing fast and physical. But I expected us to do just this,” said Anderson, who threw for 238 yards and a touchdown and ran for 61 and two scores in his first start. “I knew our defense would hold them down, and I knew our offense was going to roll. I’m glad it turned out that way.”
Wesley (2-1) never stood a chance. Unable to establish any sort of running game — they totaled minus-31 yards on the ground — and with quarterback Joe Callahan under constant pressure, the Wolverines hardly threatened.
They finished with only 105 total yards, 64 of which came on one play late in the fourth quarter.
“We expected it to be real physical,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass, whose team now trails 5-4 in the all-time series. “We knew the key would be matchups. Obviously, our offensive line against their defensive line did not go well for us.”
UMHB freshman defensive end Teidrick Smith had 1½ sacks, fellow end Korey Steward had two tackles for losses and tackle Silvio Diaz clogged up the running lanes all night.
“Diaz and Steward might as well be put on the all-American team right now,” Drass said.
Added Fredenburg: “Teidrick has done a lot of good things, but I think that whole group up front is really good. Our defense played lights-out.
Wesley had a really hard time moving the ball against us.”
On the other side of the ball, the Crusaders showed some big-play ability.
Anderson had a serpentine, 20-yard TD run, and bruising running back Elijah Hudson took a screen pass over the middle 50 yards to the end zone for a 21-0 halftime lead.
Hudson had scoring runs of 6 and 1 yards to push the gap to 35-0 at the end of the third quarter, by which time Wesley had amassed only 25 yards.
“We were really prepared,” Smith said. “We work hard in practice and then play really fast.”
The Wolverines broke the shutout on Curtis Maxwell’s 3-yard TD run with 5:26 remaining, but it hardly dampened the mood of the largest home crowd in the history of UMHB football.
“This will give us a great boost of confidence,” Fredenburg said. “This
end result is pretty special.”
Next up for the Crusaders is the American Southwest Conference opener at home next Saturday night against Sul Ross State, and Fredenburg has already said that he wants his team to establish a reputation for success in its new stadium.
The inaugural game seemed to do just that.
“I think it’s hard to beat us anywhere, period,” Anderson said.