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#16 Buffs Ready for Rematch with #1 CSU-Pueblo in NCAA Division II Quarterfinals Saturday
The Buffs are in unchartered territory. In five previous playoff appearances, the team had never won more than one game. That changed this year, as #6 seed WT knocked off Chadron State 38-30 two weeks ago and Ashland 33-28 last weekend. Next up is top seed, #1 ranked Colorado State-Pueblo in the quarterfinal round. The unbeaten Thunderwolves beat Indianapolis 28-7 to earn their first ever NCAA playoff win last weekend, setting up a rematch of the season opener for both teams.
Of course, CSU-P won that opener 44-34. The teams traded TDs in the first quarter, but CSU-P took a 10 point lead into the half, and WT never got closer than 7 points the rest of the way. A late TD made the final score more respectable, but CSU-P was clearly the better team that night.
Since then, CSU-P has reeled off 11 wins, with two by just one score (including an overtime win over Chadron State) and two by two scores. The offense is balanced - 219 yds rushing, 242 passing, good for 38 points per game. While the passing numbers are not huge, Ross Dausin's QB efficiency rating is very good, 166.78. He has thrown for 6,493 yards and 52 TDs in his three years starting. The running game is led by Soph. J B Mathews (1,104 yards in 9 games) and Fresh. Chris McDondle (858 yards in 8 games). Five players have between 22 and 38 receptions and all have at least three TD catches. Up front, senior Ryan Jensen was named first team Daktronics All-Super Region 4, while fellow seniors Bryce Givens, Jonathan Jones and (TE) Roger Pfannenschmid were named to the second team. The defense has been very good, giving up just 102 yds rushing, 254 passing and 18 points per game. C. J. Roberts was the sole defender named to the All-Super Region 4 team. He led the team with 5 interceptions, two of which he returned for TDs. Linebacker Buster Thede led CSU-P with 109 tackles, with 6 for losses and a sack. On paper, the CSU-P defense is on the smallish side, with DL averaging 250 lbs, and the linebackers just 211. Head coach John Wristen has led the team since football was reinstated in 2008, and has gone 4-6, 7-4, 6-2, 11-1, and 12-0 for an overall record of 43-13. Pretty impressive for any team, but even more so considering he was starting from scratch.
On the other side, the Buffaloes put together an eight game winning streak after the opening game loss. They won those eight games by an average of 27.5 points. Then came the Midwestern State loss. When Khiry Robinson scored his fourth TD with just under three minutes to play, the game appeared to be all but over. But MSU put together a quick 75 yard TD drive and scored on a misplay on a WT punt and shocked the Buffs 52-48. Once again, WT responded in positive manner, beating Texas A&M-Commerce in the season finale and overcoming second half deficits to win two playoff road games.
Dustin Vaughn has become the fourth WT quarterback since 2007 to surpass the 4,000 yard plateau and his 41 TD passes are tied for second best in LSC history. His QB rating is up there too (162.6, 7th in the nation). Khiry Robinson, who missed the first two games of the season, has rushed for 1,308 yards with 14 TDs. Torrence Allen is having a fantastic season (73 receptions, 1,283 yards and 3 TDs) and has come on very strong in the playoffs (20 receptions for 327 yards and 3 TDs). Five other Buffs have 35 or more receptions. Manase Foketi and Sergio Castillo (both 1st team), Aaron Mullane, Allen and Vaughn (all 2nd) were the WT offensive players selected as All-Super Region 4. Nationally, WT is 15th in scoring (40.5 points), 8th in total offense (485 yards), 7th in passing (345) and 91st in rushing (140).
Defensively, WT ranks 43rd in yards allowed (347), 47th in rushing (134), 69th in passing (213) and 33rd in scoring (21.3). They lead the nation in sacks (3.9 per game). Ethan Westbrooks was chosen as All-Super Region 4 defensive player of the year. He leads the team with 16.5 sacks and 23 tackles for losses. He was joined on the All Region team by linebacker Taylor McCuller (2nd team), who led WT with 141 tackles. Other players to watch are Kyle Voss (105 tackles, 18.5 for losses and 4 sacks), Tyrell Higgins (13 TFL, 7 sacks) and DBs Curtis Slater and Jordan Smith (combined 132 tackles, 6 interceptions, 9 passes broken up).
And let's not forget Coach Carthel. Since taking over at WT in 2005, Coach Carthel has compiled a 78-21 record, winning 10 or more games 5 times and making the playoffs 6 of 8 seasons.
This should be a really good game. The Thunderwolves may have a mental edge, defeating WT in season openers the past two years, but at this stage of the season it might not have much of an impact. The team that best controls the running game and wins the turnover battle will likely come away with the win.