READING, Pa. — New faces. New questions. New opponent. Same result.
Second-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor provided all the answers to the riddles produced by a busy offseason, dismantling overmatched Albright with a record-setting 91-7 victory on a gray and sometimes wet Saturday afternoon in eastern Pennsylvania.
Without head coach Pete Fredenburg — serving a school-mandated three-game suspension for a violation of NCAA rules — and minus many of the starters from last season’s national championship game, the Crusaders opened their season without skipping a beat and set a program mark for points in a game.
“This is just the beginning of the process for us,” UMHB defensive coordinator and acting head coach Larry Harmon said. “We’re a long way from being a really good football team, but we have all the ability in the world.”
It helped that the opponent was an Albright team that was at a decisive disadvantage when it came to speed and athleticism. The Lions (0-2) mustered only 140 total yards and never stood a chance against the Crusaders, who totaled 659 yards and scored at least 20 points in every quarter. The restocked front seven of UMHB’s defense held up — registering five sacks — and the veteran secondary had four interceptions
“We like to rise up and try to surpass our potential. You have to come out and play your hardest on every snap no matter what the score is,” said Crusaders sophomore safety Jefferson Fritz, who picked off two passes. “We just play and try to give great effort.”
Senior running back Markeith Miller ran for a program single-game record six touchdowns to go with 97 yards rushing, new starting quarterback Jace Hammack threw for 270 yards and two scores, and the Crusaders dominated in every facet of the game.
With UMHB up 7-0 after Miller’s first TD, the Crusaders cashed in linebacker Jalen Martin’s first-quarter interception with Hammack’s short swing pass to Aaron Sims, who sprinted past the Lions defense for a 71-yard touchdown, and the rout was on.
Another short Hammack throw was taken 61 yards to the house by K.J. Miller to make it 20-0, and Sims’ long punt return set up Markeith Miller’s 4-yard score and a 27-0 lead only 3 minutes into the second quarter.
K.J. Miller’s lengthy punt return led to Markeith Miller’s 1-yard TD plunge, and Demetrius Taylor’s long run back of a punt preceded Markeith Miller’s 8-yard score. Cornerback Keith Gipson’s interception set up Markeith Miller’s 2-yard score that pushed it to 48-0 heading into halftime.
The Lions’ attempt to steal some momentum starting the second half was thwarted when Derek Sides returned Albright’s onside kick attempt 45 yards for a score, and Fritz recorded his second interception of the day before Markeith Miller’s final score came from a yard out and made it 65-0 less than 4 minutes into the third.
“I didn’t know until I got that last one. I had lost track of how many I had,” said Markeith Miller, who broke his own record of five rushing scores set last year against McMurry. “It was a great feeling, though, when I got that last one.”
A 3-yard TD run by backup Marquis Duncan pushed the gap to 71-0, before Albright broke the shutout against UMHB’s backups with Kai Vargas’ 12-yard scoring toss to Zack Miller with 2:28 left in the third.
Reserve quarterback DeNerian Thomas raced 54 yards to pay dirt to extend the deficit to 77-7 in the opening minutes of the fourth, K.J. Miller’s 65-yard punt return 3 minutes later made it 84-7, and Isaiah Shepherd’s 8-yard TD run broke the program’s single game scoring record of 84 points set against Howard Payne in 2014.
“They have experience. They have speed, size, strength,” Albright head coach John Marzka said. “This is partly why I scheduled this game because if you want to compete at that level, you have to see what it takes. And this showed our players and our coaches what it takes to compete on a national level.”
Next up for UMHB is its American Southwest Conference opener next Saturday against Sul Ross State in Alpine, where the Crusaders will look to iron out any remaining kinks.
“There was some uneasiness because we’re playing a lot of younger guys and we had been very inconsistent in practice,” Harmon said. “It looks like we played really well, but we’re going to look at this film tomorrow and see that we weren’t as consistent as the score indicates.”