Friday, November 21, 2008

The Big One - Final Chapter

'Cats, Buffs take rivalry to playoffs

Jonathan Ferguson knows quite a bit about the rivalry between Abilene
Christian University and West Texas A&M. The senior wide receiver has played
the Buffaloes five times during his four-year career at ACU.

"Man, it's one of the biggest rivalries in D-II football, I promise
you," Ferguson said. "We're usually both ranked high in the region, and we both
have pretty powerful offenses and try to develop good schemes for each other.
But yeah, man, they probably play us harder than anybody else, and we play them
hard. I also have a lot of friends that play on that team. I take pride in it.
It's something you hear in the summer and the spring. Even when you're not
playing, you hear about it. So it's a big-time rivalry."

ACU NCAA Playoff Website
ACU Game Notes
WTAM Game Notes
Audio Feed
Video Feed
Live Stats

Preview and Prediction
This is how it was supposed to be - a playoff rematch of the top two LSC teams, both ranked in the top ten nationally. Everyone who has followed the LSC this year knows that ACU and WTAM have been at a different level than the rest of the conference. ACU comes into the contest with the #1 offense in scoring and total yards and the #1 defense for both. WTAM is #2 in scoring offense, total offense and scoring defense, and #3 in yards allowed.

Individual stars populate both teams. ACU of course has Harlon Hill finalist Bernard Scott, all-time LSC passing leader Billy Malone, and Johnny Knox. WTAM counters with the Keith Null, the single season passing yardage record holder (and adding to it weekly), Charly Martin, who will own most single season and career LSC receiving records, and recently healed Keithon Flemming. But there's much more to each team than just three players. ACU had 16 first-team All-LSC South selections (7 more on the second team), and players claimed 5 individual awards. WTAM had 6 chosen to the first team, and 11 to the second team, while 3 individuals were recognized at their positions.

Last Week
ACU was idle, having earned a bye as the top seed in Super Region 4.

West Texas jumped out to an early lead on the #8 Central Washington Wildcats, holding on for a 49-42 win. The Buffs gained 604 yds (111 rushing, 493 passing), with Flemming rushing for 99 yds and 4 TDs, Martin and Seth Hayden both going over 160 receiving yards, and Null hitting over 70% of his passes for 463 yds. The defense limited CWU to 64 yds rushing and All-American Mark Reilly hit under 50% of his passes. The outcome of the game wasn't decided until the final minute, however, with CWU unable to find the end zone, despite having a first and ten from the 17 yard line.

Last time these teams met
ACU jumped out to a 31-7 halftime lead as WT turned the ball over three times. TheBuffs pulled to within 10 points twice, but ACU answered both times to earn the victory. ACU piled up 687 yds of offense, 301 yds rushing and 386 yds passing. Bernard Scott had a career day with 268 yds rushing and 141 receiving and a combined 3 TDs. Johnny Knox had 203 yds receiving and 2 TDs. Billy Malone threw for 386 yds and 3 TDs. West Texas, playing without Keithon Flemming could only must 65 yds rushing, but Keith Null did throw for 415 yds and 4 TDs, but also had 3 Ints. Carl Johnson and Charly Martin each had over 100 yds receiving and a combined 3 TDs. On a day dominated by offense, ACU's Craig Harris probably had the biggest impact with 6 tackles, a forced fumble, and 2 Ints, including one at the ACU 2 yard line in the fourth quarter, to keep WT from pulling to within a FG. In addition to Flemming, Cashmin Thomas has returned to the starting lineup and should give some much needed help Saturday.

Hmmm...let's see, ACU beats WT in the regular season in Canyon and the teams face off in the playoffs. Sound familiar? It happened in 2006, with ACU winning in the regular season 49-33 with Billy Malone throwing 6 TD passes. In the rematch, ACU had a 20-6 in the fourth, when Malone went down with an injury. The Wildcats did manage another TD when Taber Minner reeled off a 76 yd TD run, but WT came back to tie the game with 55 seconds to go, and won in OT as Don Hooks blocked ACU's FG.

Will it be de ja vu? ACU is much more diverse, with more potent weapons on offense and a better defense. Will ACU's off week hurt them? Again, likely not. The offense of ACU has been in top form all season long, and did not show any rust in the season opener at Northwest Missouri, or after an off-week early in the season. Will Flemming and Thomas make a difference for WT? Possibly. Flemming has rushed for 227 yds and 6 TDs and caught 10 passes for another 56 yds in the two weeks since returning from an injury. Thomas had 8 tackles last week against another top passing game, so he is certainly welcome back as well.

ACU is certainly the favorite this weekend, but a WT win wouldn' t be a shock. It should be a close game, with turnovers and execution likely to decide the game. ACU leads the LSC with a plus 21 turnover margin, while WT has been prone to turning over the ball at times. Homefield advantage to the Wildcats as well. ACU moves on to the Regional Championship 45-35.

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