UMHB football

UMHB’s Jacob Mueller (left) wraps up Belhaven’s Cooper Tullo during the Crusaders’ conference win Saturday afternoon in Belton.

BELTON — The combination of Belhaven’s keep-away brand of football and a Mary Hardin-Baylor offense trying to find its footing with a new starting quarterback made for a methodical, plodding affair Saturday afternoon in which the laborious effort of the Crusaders defense made all the difference.

UMHB’s defense was on the field for 39 minutes but never surrendered a point, and its offense made enough plays — especially in the second half — to propel the Crusaders to a 29-0 victory over the Blazers.

“It was a challenge, but we did our job and got the ball to our offense whenever we could,” said UMHB senior free safety Jefferson Fritz, who had a game-high 10 tackles. “We knew coming into the game that (Belhaven) was going to try to run the clock and keep the ball away from our offense.”

The much-improved Blazers (5-3, 4-3 American Southwest Conference), who came in riding a four-game winning streak that would have been five if not for a narrow 21-16 loss to Hardin-Simmons, executed their game plan for much of the day with one exception — finding the end zone at Crusader Stadium.

Belhaven’s offense ran 71 plays compared to just 53 for No. 2 UMHB (8-0, 7-0) and chewed time off the clock by running the ball 44 times for 100 yards — 63 of them by 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback Mayowa Asagunla — but the Blazers never reached the Crusaders 30-yard line all afternoon.

“That’s their mode of operation. They slow it down and try to make first downs and keep your offense off the field,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I thought the defense really stood up and played. Any time you get a shutout against anybody in this day and age, that’s pretty remarkable.”

On the flip side, the Crusaders totaled 291 yards, a modest number compared to the 495 yards and 55 points they averaged through their first seven games with senior quarterback Kyle King at the helm.

With King sidelined Saturday by turf toe, senior Ryan Redding protected the ball and executed a pared down game plan in just his second career start.

“I was a little nervous because I hadn’t started a game (since 2019). Once I got hit, I was fine. I was ready to play,” said Redding, who was 8-of-20 passing for 114 yards and ran for a score. “Regardless of what happens with the starting job, this made me ready to start or be the best backup I can. I’m ready to step into whatever role it is.”

Redding’s 14-yard touchdown run capped a six-play, 89-yard march on UMHB’s opening possession, but the Crusaders’ only other points of the first half came when they had to settle for Anthony Avila’s 25-yard field goal after they couldn’t punch it in on three plays from inside the Belhaven 9 in the final minute before intermission.

“That’s what happens when good teams play each other. We shot ourselves in the foot some, but we fixed some of that in the second half,” Redding said. “It was frustrating at first, but I think we all knew at some point things would start to click.”

KJ Miller’s 45-yard punt return set up UMHB at the Belhaven 39 midway through the third quarter, but the Crusaders moved only 4 yards before Avila’s 52-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Carlton Brown.

UMHB finally found the end zone again with an eight-play, 52-yard drive capped by Aphonso Thomas’ 1-yard plunge, and the Crusaders pulled away with Thomas’ 11-yard TD jaunt midway through the fourth and Montana Miller’s 4-yard scoring run — set up by Khyren Deal’s 19-yard interception return to the Blazers 10 — with 2 minutes to go.

Thomas finished with 61 yards rushing, Kenneth Cormier added 54, and Redding had 51.

“I think Ryan is a quality quarterback. He’s certainly a dynamic young man, and he will get better from this game,” Fredenburg said. “Kyle’s working through his injury. He’s still sore, but he’ll be back. He could be back next week, but I don’t know.”

The Crusaders have just two regular-season games remaining — at home next Saturday against Howard Payne and on the road versus McMurry on Nov. 13 — before the playoffs begin.

They know they’ll need to be in peak form by then, and Fritz believes Saturday’s outcome should raise their confidence, given the circumstances.

“Overall, I think we played some really good defense and our offense played pretty well without Kyle,” he said. “That’s a morale booster.”