Story and photo courtesy of West Texas A&M Athletics
ASHLAND, Ohio – On a cold and breezy, November day in Ohio with light snow flurries, the No. 16 West Texas A&M football team fought through the cold and wind and pulled out a 33-28 win at No. 4 Ashland University in the second round of the NCAA Division II Super Region Four. With the win, WT improved to 11-2 on the year advanced to the Super Region Final for the first time in school history, while previously undefeated Ashland ends its season with an 11-1 record.
In a game that saw temperatures in the 20s, the Buffs fought through the coldest weather they had played in all season as the defense stepped up with two huge sacks and a bend, but don’t break mentality in the final minutes for the win.
On 3rd and five from AU’s 41 with just over three minutes remaining and WT clinging to a 33-28 lead, junior defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks came up with his biggest sack of the year dropping Housewright for a 10-yard loss forcing the Eagles to punt with 2:43 remaining. It was Westbrooks’ team and Lone Star Conference-leading 15.5 sack of the year which tied the school record for sacks in a season with Franco Glaze in 1997.
WT drained as much of the clock as it could and then punted with 48 seconds left to the 12. From there, Housewright threw three nice passes to Brian Gamble, who plays both ways, getting to the WT 26 with 12 seconds remaining. Westbrooks tallied his third and school-record 16.5 sack of the season as senior defensive lineman Tyrell Higgins came up with the ball with eight seconds remaining. Vaughan and the offense took a knee for the win.
WT evened its NCAA Tournament record at 5-5 as it will play a third playoff game for the first time in school history in six appearances. The opponent and place had not been set as of this release as Colorado State Pueblo and Indianapolis were still playing.
The Buffs were led by a stellar throwing day from Harlon Hill Finalist Dustin Vaughan as he was 35 of 50 with four touchdowns and one interception for 398 yards. Junior wide receiver Torrence Allen continued to have an impressive postseason as he tallied a career-high 13 receptions for 185 yards and three key scores, while junior wide receiver Nathan Allen had 10 receptions for 98 yards.
Defensively, the Buffs had players step up all over the field as junior linebacker Taylor McCuller led the team with 12 total tackles, while junior linebacker Kyle Voss was second with nine stops. Just like in the Chadron State game last week, the defensive backs continued to make big plays as junior defensive back Curtis Slater, sophomore Torian Oakley and senior Jordan Smith all came up with interceptions on fellow Harlon Hill Finalist Taylor Housewright who had just one interception all season coming in for Ashland. The defensive line forced four sacks for 24 yards and 10 tackles for loss for 39 yards, while recovering a punt to win the turnover battle 4-2.
The Eagles were led by Anthony Taylor on the ground as he had a game-high 156 yards and a score on 22 carries. Housewright was 20 of 34 with three interceptions and 166 yards to go along with two touchdowns. Gamble le d the team with 66 yards receiving, while Taylor and Anthony Capasso caught the Housewright scores.
Gamble led all defensive players with 14 tackles as he was all over the field and had nine solo stops. Cody Bloom was second with 12 tackles, while Mike Millan added nine stops.
After a three-and-out by the Buffs on their first possession and a punt, Ashland’s quarterback Taylor Housewright threw just his second interception of the season as Slater picked off the pass and returned it 22 yards to the AU 28. It was Slater’s team-leading fourth interception of the season. From there, the Buffs drove to the five, but settled for a 22-yard field goal by junior Sergio Castillo, Jr. for a 3-0 lead with 11:13 remaining.
On a fourth and one from the AU 39, the Buffs called a timeout with the offense on the field and came back out in punt formation which confused the Eagles as they had 12 men on the field leading to a first down for the Buffs. From there, the Buffs made AU pay for its mistake as junior quarterback Dustin Vaughan threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to junior Torrence Allen for a 10-0 lead with 6:09 remaining in the first quarter.
The first play from scrimmage for AU to open the second quarter, Taylor ran off the near side for 51 yards for a score cutting the WT lead to 10-7 with 14:42 remaining in the half.
After a three-and-out by the Buffs, Ashland’s Eric Schwieterman blocked the Kevin Van Voris punt and it was returned by Alex Winters for the score and the first Eagle lead of the game at 14-10 with 13:46 remaining in the second quarter. Ashland scored two touchdowns in a matter of 56 seconds.
The Buffs responded with a 38-yard field goal by Castillo for a 14-13 deficit with 11:42 remaining in the second quarter.
A late flag from the back judge for pass interference on WT prolonged the next AU drive as Taylor rushed for 22 yards to the 50 to get out of its own end. The Buff defense stepped up their own 37 as junior linebacker Brian Johnson batted down the Housewright pass on fourth down.
A nice screen pass to senior running back Khiry Robinson went for 35 yards, but Gamble made a touchdown saving tackle. Vaughan then hooked up with Allen and junior wide receiver Trevor Hammargren bringing the Buffs to the five yard line. On third and goal, Vaughan connected with Hammargren for his second touchdown of the day and a 19-14 lead. Castillo missed his first extra point in 63 attempts dating back to last season.
On the ensuing drive, Housewright threw his second interception of the game as Smith picked off the over-through and returned it to the AU 37 with less than three minutes remaining in the half. The Buffs were unable to capitalize on the good field possession as they had to punt.
WT forced AU to punt, but the ball hit one of the WT players as AU recovered setting the Eagles up at the WT 37 with 1:03 remaining in the half. A big holding penalty on the Eagles negated a nice pass play, however, a personal foul on WT gave AU a first and 10 with 36 seconds in the half at the 31.
A great shovel-pass to Taylor from Housewright with 10 seconds remaining in the half put AU back in front 21-19 heading into intermission.
In what was a wild third quarter, the Eagles took the opening kick and drove right down the field using the ground for a majority of the drive. Housewright connected with Capasso for a 14-yard score and a 28-19 lead. The Buffs came right back with a nice drive of its own as Vaughan connected on five passes and a couple of runs from Robinson. Allen then caught a 20-yard pass to the AU 14 and then was the recipient of Vaughan’s third touchdown pass of the game for a 28-26 deficit.
On the ensuing drive, AU marched right down the field and looked as if it’d score, but on 4th and 1 the Eagles decided to try a field goal. The 26-yard try from Casey Cameron came up short.
The Buffs returned the favor and marched right down the field with the help of a late hit penalty on AU with the ball spotted near midfield. Vaughan hooked up with Allen once again as he made an acrobatic catch climbing the ladder down to the five and later scored for a 33-28 lead.
Housewright then threw his third pick of the game on the ensuing possession as sophomore defensive back Torian Oakley picked it off. WT drove to the one and was stopped on fourth down with just over seven minutes remaining.