UMHB football

UMHB quarterback Kyle King (17) avoids tackle attempts by Simpson’s Landen Schafer and Nico Pelky (right) during Saturday’s game

BELTON — There is surely more work to be done to reach the Stagg Bowl for the fifth time. But if the season opener — Mary Hardin-Baylor’s first game with playoff implications in two years — was any indication Saturday night, the Crusaders’ climb from base camp to the mountaintop isn’t all that long.

With a combination of physicality and speed, UMHB proved worthy of its No. 1 ranking in an 84-6 shellacking of overmatched Simpson at Crusader Stadium. The Crusaders piled up 601 yards, limited the visitors from Iowa to only 146 and sent an early message that they expect to contend for a spot in the national championship game in Canton, Ohio, come mid-December.

“It’s astonishing we executed as well as we did on all levels,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “We got everybody in, and it was an outstanding effort by our team. It was important that our guys go out and concentrate and execute, and I think they did.”

The game’s opening possession ended with Brandon Jordan’s block and recovery of a Simpson punt. Two plays later, senior quarterback Kyle King beat the Storm defense to the front, right pylon from 16 yards out, and the rout was on.

King quickly tacked on a pair of short touchdown plunges — the second after Aaron Sims’ punt return to the Simpson 2-yard line — and the Crusaders led 21-0 after just 10 minutes.

King’s 3-yard fade pass to Jordan, King’s 1-yard dive and Kenneth Cormier’s 7-yard run pushed it to 42-0 going into halftime, and King’s 16-yard TD throw to Jordan on the initial possession of the second half marked the end of the night for UMHB’s starters.

The Storm didn’t have the speed on either side of the ball to keep pace with the Crusaders. Simpson mustered just 59 yards — including minus-22 on the ground — in the first half, and it didn’t get much better after intermission against a defense led by linebackers Jacob Mueller (five tackles) and Akeem Jackson (four) and All-American safety Jefferson Fritz (four) .

In his third start for UMHB, King was 14-of-19 passing for 201 yards and two TDs and added the four scores on the ground. Jordan finished with five catches for 116 yards and two TDs for a Crusaders offense that was 8-for-10 on third-down conversions, punted only once and did whatever it wanted for most of the night.

“Obviously, they weren’t as good as we were. It’s hard to tell right now exactly how well we did some things,” said Fredenburg, whose team hosts East Texas Baptist next Saturday night in the American Southwest Conference opener. “There’s going to be a lot of learning done from the video. I do think we’re a little ahead of where we have been at this time in past years, especially offensively.

“I’m proud of the guys because the thing that happens in a ballgame like this is that you can lose your focus. I felt like our guys stayed focused, and we’ll learn a lot from this game.”

Backup quarterback Tommy Bowden stretched the gap to 56-0 with a 3-yard run, before the Storm finally found the end zone — on Seth Howard’s 26-yard throw to Reed Worth — against UMHB’s reserves with 4:16 left in the third. Bowden scored again from 19 yards out, and fourth-string running back Andrew Robinson’s 16-yard run made it 70-6 by the end of the quarter.

Robinson added a 6-yard TD run, and third-string quarterback Ryan Redding sprinted 64 yards to the end zone in the fourth to cap the scoring.

Howard and Worth provided the vast majority of production for a Simpson offense that finished with minus-9 yards rushing. Worth had five catches for 83 yards, and Howard was 11-of-25 passing for 155 yards but was picked off twice — once each by Keith Gipson and Jackson Sennie.