BROWNWOOD — Even though it has been 165 minutes and 23 seconds since Mary Hardin-Baylor has surrendered a point, Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg isn’t ready to say that this might be one of the program’s stingiest defenses.
He is hedging his bets, though.
“I just don’t know how good we are,” he said Friday night after No. 2 UMHB stonewalled Howard Payne in a 55-0 victory at Gordon Wood Stadium. “I know we’re good in the secondary, and I know we’re making incredible progress up front. I think there’s a chance we’ll be pretty stinking good.”
He won’t get any arguments from the Yellow Jackets (1-5, 1-4 American Southwest Conference), who finished with only 95 total yards — 46 rushing and 49 passing — and five first downs while falling to the Crusaders by at least 49 points for the eighth straight year.
It was the second shutout in as many weeks for UMHB (6-0, 5-0), which has given up only 35 points all season. After having their work week cut short when the game was moved up a day because of the threat of inclement weather, the Crusaders had six tackles each from linemen Isaiah Johnson and Joey Longoria to spearhead a defense that never gave Howard Payne a chance to catch its breath.
“It’s all about what we do Sunday through Thursday. Every day at practice is game day,” Johnson said. “Our competition in practice is like a game. So when we come out here, it’s the same environment. It’s muscle memory.
“We know this is what we have to do to get us where we’re trying to go. We don’t think about the past, we just try to move forward in everything that we do.”
Before the defense got a chance to step foot on the field, it was the Crusaders’ special teams and offense that set the tone. On the first play after Logan Collins returned the opening kickoff to the Howard Payne 43-yard line, Markeith Miller burst through the middle and raced to the end zone for a quick 7-0 UMHB lead and the rout was on.
“I knew we were getting the ball first, and we wanted to come out here and set the tone,” said Miller, who finished with 173 yards rushing. “It was a short week, but we still needed to keep pushing.”
The Crusaders added Anthony Avila’s 35-yard field goal 6½ minutes later, then used Miller runs of 21 and 41 yards to set up DeNerian Thomas’ 4-yard touchdown trot for a 17-0 advantage at the 3:43 mark of the first quarter.
UMHB senior safety Raylon Hickey halted the Yellow Jackets’ most promising drive of the first half with a diving interception at the Crusaders 11, and UMHB marched 89 yards in 13 plays — the last of which was Jase Hammack’s 24-yard TD pass Jonel Reed for a 24-0 cushion only 2½ minutes into the second quarter.
Miller took a screen pass 33 yards to paydirt with 8:26 left in the opening half, and the Crusaders used long punt returns by Aaron Sims to set up their final two scores of the first half — Luke Poorman’s 34-yard TD pass to Kadarius Daniels, and Avila’s 27-yard field goal for a 41-0 halftime lead.
The Crusaders got on the board again with 2:50 left in the third quarter, when Sims fielded a punt at the 50, headed left, reversed field and sprinted to the end zone to extend the lead to 48-0. Backup running back Marquis Duncan went 37 yards with a screen pass to the Yellow Jackets 9 then took a swing pass from Poorman and dived over goal line to make it 55-0 with 6:45 remaining.
By the time it ended, UMHB had racked up 246 yards rushing and 229 passing. Poorman was 8-of-10 passing for 153 yards, and Hammack went 6-of-18 for 71.
“It never gets old to win like this,” Miller said. “As much as we put in, this is our reward. Every day is a battle, and Coach Fred makes sure we push ourselves.”
Next up for UMHB, which outscored its first six opponents 364-35, is a long trip to face Belhaven in Jackson, Miss., next Saturday. The Crusaders are hopeful that the schedule holds true for that affair.
“It just felt totally odd today. I brought my heavy coat instead of my raincoat. I left my phone at home. It just felt like one of those days,” Fredenburg said. “What excites me, though, is that our guys put aside the distractions and still played pretty well.”