BELTON — Punched in the mouth early, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor responded and survived some self-inflicted wounds to push its regular-season winning streak to an even 40.
UMHB dug itself from a 10-0 hole and overcame four turnovers to turn away Louisiana College 45-34 at sun-soaked Crusader Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Crusaders (6-0, 2-0 American Southwest Conference), who won their 28th straight conference game, used a school-record 359 passing yards from sophomore Zach Anderson and a defensive touchdown from senior safety Cody Jones to rally from the early deficit and beat the Wildcats (4-2, 2-1) for the third time in 12 months.
“I didn’t sense anybody getting panicked,” UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg said. “We felt like we gave up some big plays that could be rectified, so it was just about going about our business.”
Most of the Crusaders’ business revolved around the arm of Anderson and the minds of their defenders, who had to deal with LC’s myriad of quirky formations.
Freshman quarterback Easton Melancon threw for 409 yards and the Wildcats did most of their damage in large chunks. Three of their four touchdowns came on pass plays that covered more than 30 yards, the longest being a 69-yard reception by running back Ryan Montague that staked LC to a 10-0 first-quarter lead.
“They know our defense pretty well and they know how to do some things to mess up our reads and coverages,” said UMHB senior cornerback Brodrick Crain, a Belton product who made a game-high 13 tackles. “It worked for them, and I guess we weren’t locked in enough.”
The Crusaders’ response was swift.
Speedy sophomore receiver Marcus Wimby turned a short pass into a 66-yard touchdown. Anderson ran 9 yards for a score. Jones picked off Melancon and returned it 46 yards for a TD, and Elijah Hudson barreled in from 4 yards out to cap a 28-0 spurt by UMHB.
“We knew they were going to send the kitchen after us, and they did,” Fredenburg said. “We let them make some plays off that, and that’s the unfortunate thing defensively. Offensively, I thought we had way too many turnovers, but I was proud of the way we responded.”
LC never got closer than eight points the rest of the way. Hudson added a 10-yard touchdown and Drew Owen kicked a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Anderson hooked up with new starting tight end Eric Nelson for a 37-yard TD midway through the fourth quarter.
Anderson completed 22 of 31 attempts and topped the program’s old single-game yardage record of 333, set last year by LiDarral Bailey.
But Anderson also threw three interceptions — two on back-to-back possessions late in first half and the last late in the fourth quarter.
“I’ll remember the three interceptions more than the yards,” Anderson said. “You don’t learn from scoring. You learn from your mistakes, so I definitely have to work on that.
“I have to sit there and trust that my line is going to give me time and then deliver the ball. I rush it too much sometimes.”
Added Fredenburg: “You can’t blame Zach for all of it. On that last interception, we should have run the ball. Just run the ball and get out.
Don’t force the thing. Let’s be a little smarter than the equipment.”
Melancon’s 409 passing yards rank among the most ever given up in a game by the Crusaders — only 89 shy of the all-time high of 498 recorded by McMurry in 2010.
It wasn’t enough, though.
“I thought we played toe-to-toe for the most part with a great football team,” said LC coach Dennis Dunn, whose program fell to 0-14 all-time against UMHB. “I’m proud of the kids’ effort, but we didn’t come over here to keep it close or have a moral victory.”
As for the Crusaders, they’ll try to iron out the kinks before facing longtime conference rival Hardin-Simmons next Saturday afternoon in Abilene for what will be their first road game in seven weeks.
“Because of our talented receivers and runners and quarterback, I think we continue to search for ways to move this offense along,” Fredenburg said.