BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor won its game against Howard Payne rather handily. As for the teams’ fight at the end of the first half, it would have to be scored as a draw.
UMHB fell behind 14-0 in the first 3½ minutes then scored 59 unanswered points wrapped around a benches-clearing brawl, stretching its win streak to 14 games with a 59-14 victory over Howard Payne on Saturday afternoon at Crusader Stadium.
Things already had been a little chippy between the No. 2-ranked Crusaders (9-0, 8-0 American Southwest Conference) and Yellow Jackets (6-3, 5-3) when the shenanigans escalated as the first-half horn sounded.
UMHB senior receiver KJ Miller caught a pass on the half’s final play and was tackled after running out of bounds on the Howard Payne sideline. A couple of his nearby teammates rushed to his rescue and the shoving ensued.
When a helmetless Miller was thrown to the ground again and punches started flying, the Crusaders left their sideline and joined in the melee.
“They tackled me on the sideline then they started jumping me,” Miller said. “It’s a physical game. That’s part of it. It’s a physical game and there’s always talking, but nobody knew it was going to get to that.”
Officials and coaches tried to intervene but the fighting continued for a few minutes before the teams were finally separated and sent on their ways.
Howard Payne receiver Josh Aldama was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as was the entire Yellow Jackets team, resulting in Aldama’s ejection for two such infractions.
The entire UMHB team also drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that resulted in the ejection of Brenton Martin, who had been flagged for the same penalty earlier in the game.
“Our guy got hit late, and tempers were already flaring,” said UMHB senior linebacker Jacob Mueller, who had a team-high eight tackles. “We don’t condone the fighting, but we do have to stand up for our teammates. We can’t let that happen.”
Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg had a similar perspective.
“It was so bad what they did to KJ. Everybody went over there and tried to break it up, but they just kept going for a long time. It was crazy how it was handled,” he said. “I just think (Howard Payne was) trying really, really hard to prove a point that they were not going to be intimidated by us.”
The Yellow Jackets certainly drew first blood with Landon McKinney’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Jake Parker on a flea-flicker on the game’s first play and McKinney’s 35-yard scoring throw to Parker about 3 minutes later for a quick 14-0 lead.
It was all Crusaders from there.
After yielding 123 yards on Howard Payne’s first five snaps, UMHB surrendered only 210 on the Yellow Jackets’ final 62 plays with a defensive effort that included interceptions by Keith Gipson, Akeem Jackson and Trashawn Adams.
“They came out with more energy than we did and hit us in the mouth those first few plays,” Mueller said. “We settled down, though. We’ve been there before. It’s nothing new to us. We don’t like getting down, but we’re not going to give up.”
The UMHB offense hit its stride midway through the first quarter and steadily pulled away as the Crusaders built a 35-14 lead by halftime before tacking on 24 points after intermission.
In his second straight start in place of injured Kyle King, senior quarterback Ryan Redding was 21-of-28 passing for 307 yards — including two TD throws to Brandon Jordan — and ran for 98 yards and two TDs.
Aphonso Thomas added 91 yards rushing and two TDs, Kenneth Cormier ran for a pair of scores, and Miller finished with a program single-game record 12 receptions that totaled 165 yards.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Miller, whose team closes the regular season next Saturday on the road against McMurry before the playoffs begin the following week. “I was just expecting to come out here, do my job and get the win.”