BELTON — Brian Gallagher was ready for business.
With 9:05 left to play on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Division III quarterfinal clash between host UMHB and St. John Fisher, Crusader starting quarterback Zach Anderson threw an interception. Two minutes later, the Cardinals scored and trailed the Cru 31-23.
The sophomore Anderson has had a sensational season.
“But today,” said Crusaders head coach Pete Fredenburg, “Zach was struggling a bit.”
So with a Final Four berth on the line, Fredenburg asked Gallagher to take care of business — run the offense and make sure UMHB won the football game.
“When Coach put me in today,” said Gallagher, “I felt I was ready.”
Gallagher, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, had been in competition for the starting quarterback job back in August. But an injury forced him out of the competition and by the time he was back at full strength, Anderson, by Game 2, had firmly established himself as the first-stringer.
“With the weather today — cold and windy — I knew it would take a full team effort to win,” said Gallagher. “So I just stayed ready to fulfill my role and do whatever I was asked to do.”
He was asked to do a lot.
During St. John Fisher’s kickoff, UMHB was called for holding on the return, so Gallagher entered this contest facing a first-and-10 backed up at the Crusader 3-yard line.
On second-and-9 at the 4-yard line, Crusader offensive coordinator Jeff Shinn showed his confidence in Gallagher. He called pass. If it looked open, Gallagher was to hurl a screen pass toward the right sideline, to halfback Elijah Hudson. Yes, Gallagher would be standing in his own end zone. Yes, Gallagher would first have to fake out the defense by looking left, and then looking right—making certain the defensive end was not in position to defend Hudson.
“Brian Gallagher always stays prepared each week no matter what,” said Hudson. “I had absolutely no doubts that Brian would make the right read and perfect pass there.”
Gallagher dropped back into the end zone. He looked left, froze several defenders, then looked right.
“I thought their defensive end did a pretty nice job trying to get back on Elijah but I still felt I could make that throw and then let Elijah do the work.”
Gallagher made the perfect pass, hitting Hudson in stride. Hudson raced 20 yards upfield and then, indeed, went to work. Hudson gave a nifty fake—right-left-right—then sped down the sidelines and wasn’t tackled until he made it to the Cardinal 25-yard line.
On the next snap, Gallagher kept the rock, busted two tackles and gained eight yards.
Three plays later, Gallagher faked a pitch to Hudson, tucked the ball away and dashed nine yards into the end zone, upping UMHB’s lead to 38-23.
“That play was an option to the right,” explained Gallagher. “I just planted, turned it upfield and our tight end Eric Nelson and the right side of our line (guard Kendrick Booker, tackle Jose Ostos) had the defense sealed.”
With 4:17 left, and the score still 38-23, the Cru defense recovered a fumble at the Cardinal 49-yard line. Gallagher and his offensive cohorts got back down to business. Three consecutive Hudson carries totaled 42 yards.
On first-and-goal at the 7, Shinn called for a quarterback keeper.
“I was pumped about that call, because I knew I’d be faking the handoff and keeping it and I figured nobody would be in my way because we’d been running power a few times in a row,” said Gallagher. “So I just turned it around the corner and ran.”
The win was sealed.
Gallagher’s stats in his four minutes and 36 seconds of action were quite impressive. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 78 yards and rushed for 33 yards and two touchdowns on four carries.
Of course the most impressive statistic of all was the final score: Gallagher and his teammates prevailed 45-23.
“Brian Gallagher made such a big impact for us in this game today,” said UMHB all-conference senior left guard Josh Holt. “It’s really cool to see a fellow senior really fighting so hard to help keep our season alive.
“You have to respect Brian tremendously because he’s been playing a tough role. I’ve played the No. 2 role myself in the past few years and I know how tough that can be. But to be able to come in here today at the crucial point of the ballgame and make the big plays that Brian did speaks a whole lot about Brian’s character and the type of preparation he puts in each week.”
“Brian stepped up big for us today,” said Hudson. “He did a hell of a job. He came in and did exactly what we needed him to do: make the right reads and make big plays.”
Next week, Gallagher will again be backing up Anderson. Gallagher has no complaints about that.
“Seeing this team succeed is what fires me up most,” said Gallagher. “I’m really proud of everything my teammates have accomplished, how well we’ve played together and all the wins we’ve piled up. Whatever my role is—starting or coming off the bench—I just want to fulfill that role to the best of my abilities. I’m hoping us seniors leave a strong legacy here and we can do that by winning a national championship. So that’s all I’m worrying about. “
Postgame, Fredenburg was thrilled for Gallagher.
“That was an awesome performance by Brian,” he said. “Brian is very deserving of all the compliments he’s getting today.”
As for getting to the Final Four, Gallagher said, “It feels great. But we’ve got some unfinished business to take care of from last year.”
Last season, UMHB was defeated in the semifinals by Mount Union, 48-35.
Simply stated, the business of the UMHB Crusaders is winning football games.
And, right now, thanks in part to Brian Gallagher, business is good. Very good.