BACK ON THE FIELD: Reigning ASC champ UMHB visits Belhaven to begin shortened spring football season
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – After its entire 2020 fall season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor football team will begin its shortened 2021 spring season on Saturday with a noon game against Belhaven University at the Belhaven Bowl in Jackson, Mississippi.
It's the first of four American Southwest Conference East Division games for UMHB, which was predicted to win the division championship in a poll of ASC head coaches and sports information directors. Longtime head coach Pete Fredenburg's Crusaders will play their first of two home games Feb. 20 at noon against Louisiana College at Crusader Stadium.
UMHB will host Southwestern University at noon on Feb. 27 before the Crusaders complete their four-game schedule with a March 6 game against East Texas Baptist – picked second in the ASC East poll – in Marshall.
Hardin-Simmons was picked to win the ASC West crown, ahead of Texas Lutheran, Howard Payne, Sul Ross State and McMurry.
The winners of the ASC's East and West divisions will play each other in the conference championship game on March 13, with the two divisions' other corresponding seeds also playing each other that week.
The trip to Belhaven will be UMHB's first game since Dec. 7, 2019, when the previously undefeated Crusaders lost 26-7 to Wisconsin-Whitewater in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal playoff game at Crusader Stadium. UMHB won its first 12 games that season, including a 9-0 run to the ASC title.
The Crusaders went 15-0 in 2018 and won their second Division III national championship in three years, but subsequently they were forced to vacate 13 victories and the 2018 Stagg Bowl title because of NCAA rules infractions.
UMHB claimed two of its conference's individual preseason honors as senior defensive back Jefferson Fritz was selected as ASC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and junior kicker Anthony Avila was chosen ASC Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Fritz, a Kaufman product, made 44 tackles and three interceptions in 2019 while earning All-American and first-team all-conference recognition. He has the most interceptions in UMHB and ASC history.
Avila, a Troy graduate, was the ASC Special Teams Player of the Year and an All-American in 2019 after making a conference-record 23 field goals and compiling 133 total points.
UMHB and Belhaven are meeting for the first time since the 2019 ASC opener, when the Crusaders trudged past the Blazers for a 23-13 win in Belton. UMHB leads 7-2 in the schools' all-time series.