UNION, N.J. — With two weeks of the 2013 season in the rearview mirror, Mary Hardin-Baylor can finally focus on the game everyone has been waiting for.
And all it took to reach this point was 2,382 miles of travel, two victories and a breakout performance from an unheralded sophomore.
Zach Anderson threw for 161 yards and three touchdowns to fuel a dominant second half for fourth-ranked UMHB, which pulled away for a 34-7 victory over Kean on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium.
The Crusaders’ 36th consecutive regular-season victory was their second straight on the road to start the season, which began with last week’s win on the country’s other coast against Redlands (Calif.). Up next is the home opener for UMHB (2-0) and the inaugural game at palacial Crusader Stadium.
“I don’t know if I’m too anxious for next week anymore,” UMHB coach Pete Fredenburg joked after seeing his team struggle in the first half and flourish in the second. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Anderson had done his homework and proved so in his first varsity action at the college level. The 6-2 sophomore completed 12 of his 14 pass attempts and sparked a second-half charge after senior Jake Sims led the offense to only three points in the first two quarters.
“I was ready for my chance,” Anderson said. “I know the offense just as well as the other guys. We all get reps every day. I didn’t have any hesitation because I knew it.
“We settled down in the second half and got after it.”
The Crusaders’ ugly first half included multiple turnovers and kept the Cougars (0-2) in it through 30 minutes.
“Halftime was a little bit of a reality check,” Fredenburg said. “We had a punt blocked. We had a punt dropped. We had an interception. We had a fumble. It was unreal.”
Added Kean coach Dan Garrett: “We went in thinking that if we could keep it close in the first half then we would have a shot. So 3-0 at halftime, we’re thinking, ‘Hey we’re right in this thing.’ Now I’m still trying to figure out what happened in the second half.”
After the break, the Cougars received a full dose of precision passing by Anderson, bruising running from senior Elijah Hudson (154 yards) and a suffocating performance by the Crusaders defense. By the end of the day, Kean had totaled only 125 yards and posted its only points on a 100-yard kickoff return.
“We knew what (UMHB) was going to bring with the speed and athleticism,” Garrett said. “We thought we would spread them out and hit them with the quick stuff. Their answer to that was to blitz us, and we couldn’t protect. After that, we had nothing.”
“The defense did a really nice job today,” he said.
Linebacker Deshon Kinsey had 10 tackles — including 1½ sacks — tackle Silvio Diaz forced a pair of fumbles, and Cody Jones and Brodrick Crain had interceptions to pace a defense that hasn’t given up 100 rushing yards in two games combined.
On the other side of the ball, Anderson had a 4-yard scoring run and touchdown passes of 20 yards to Hudson, 4 yards to Kamray Runnells and 7 yards to Ryan Murphy, and freshman Drew Owen kicked a pair of field goals.
“That was a lot of fun. It was a good trip up here. I’m glad I got to come on this trip,” Anderson said. “I have confidence in myself. I knew when the chance got here that I would be ready for it.”
The play of the sophomore — and the improving health of senior Brian Gallagher, who was slated as the starter before injuring an ankle during fall camp — certainly gives Fredenburg more to consider when deciding on starter for next Saturday night’s showdown with No. 5 Wesley (Del.).
“We think (Zach) is a good player,” Fredenburg said. “We think we have three capable guys, and I’m very proud of Zach because he came into the game in a very difficult situation. And really, I think our whole team woke up in the second half.”