ABILENE - Rumor has it Hardin-Simmons coach Jesse Burleson said the only way to beat his team was to force fumbles during an interview earlier in the week. Mary Hardin-Baylor took that to heart and worked on forcing fumbles each day of practice leading up to the game.
The work paid off when No. 5 UMHB scored three touchdowns in 46 seconds of the second quarter, highlighted by two fumble returns for touchdowns that propelled the Crusaders to a 50-20 win over No. 6 Hardin-Simmons.
The Cowboys held a 20-16 lead with 4:36 left in the first half following a 74-yard TD pass from Gaylon Glynn to Kevi Evans. That’s when the Cru took control. K.J. Miller returned the kickoff to the HSU 4-yard line.
Kyle King sent a fade pass in the direction of Brandon Jordan, and the wideout high-pointed the ball to give the Cru their first touchdown in four red zone trips. Then the damn broke for HSU.
HSU fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Johnny Smith-Rider returned the fumble 22 yards for a touchdown. Two plays later, the Cowboys fumbled again, and Durand Hill scooped the ball and raced 33 yards for a touchdown that gave UMHB an insurmountable 36-20 lead heading into the locker room.
UMHB keeps its playoff hopes alive: It was no secret this game was a must-win for the Cru to keep their playoff hopes alive following a Week 2 road loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Not only did UMHB keep its playoff hopes alive, but it will also earn the American Southwest Conference’s automatic bid by winning its remaining games. While the Cru still needs to handle its business on the field, MasseyRatings.com has UMHB favored to easily win out, with Howard Payne the only team projected to stay within 17 points of the Cru.
If you’re reading this as an HSU fan, please skip to the next section. This is what the Cowboys needed to avoid. Sure, HSU owns a nice resume win over Wisconsin-Platteville, but that, combined with a conference that lacks the depth of quality teams, may not lead to a playoff berth this year.
It seems to be the same story for the Cowboys recently. They have the talent and ability to beat UMHB, but they have yet to put it together for four quarters. One day the Cowboys will defeat the Cru, but HSU needs to clear the mental hurdle when they play UMHB.
What did you say about us? The UMHB defense has been much-maligned this season, but that happens when a team that ordinarily dominates its opponents is allowing over 350 total yards per game. HSU finished with over 300 yards in this contest.
But the Cru defense showed they could still change the game, forcing four turnovers in the second half that led to 20 points for UMHB. Those points off turnovers were the difference in the game at halftime, and the Cru offense found its rhythm in the second half to seal the victory.
“I told (Durand) that he was gonna make a statement tonight,” UMHB coach Larry Harmon said before heaping massive praise on the sophomore linebacker. He's probably the next closest linebacker we've ever had athletically to (UMHB great) Jerrell Freeman. He's that kind of athlete, and I thought he had a whale of a game tonight.”
Everything was going according to plan: HSU was executing its game plan against UMHB throughout the first half. The Cowboys held the Cru to 0-for-6 on third down conversions. UMHB did convert two fourth-down attempts in the first half, but the HSU defense was stealing the show.
The key to the game for the Cowboys defense was forcing UMHB to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns inside the red zone. That was mission accomplished for most of the first half. The Cru had trouble moving the ball in the final 20-yards due to the veracity of the HSU defense. Unfortunately for HSU, most of the points that mattered came with its defense on the sidelines.
Game Ball: Mary Hardin-Baylor WR Jerry Day: The 6-foot-2 sophomore is the secret weapon for UMHB. Most opponents focus on Brandon Jordan and K.J. Miller, but Day showcased his ability with four receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.
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