Story and photo courtesy of West Texas A&M Athletics
CHADRON, Neb. – A career-high 235 yards rushing by West Texas A&M senior running back Khiry Robinson helped bring the No. 16/sixth-seed Buffaloes back from a 14-0 first quarter deficit for a thrilling 38-30 win over No. 20/three-seed Chadron State in the first round of the NCAA Division II Championship Saturday afternoon at Elliott Field at Don Beebe Stadium on the campus of Chadron State University. With the win, the Buffaloes advance to play at No. 2-seed Ashland University of Ohio next Saturday in the second round.
“It was a great football game with two really good teams out there,” head coach Don Carthel said. “It was a very physical game with a lot of big hits and big plays. Both offenses played very well and both defensives made some good stops to give their teams the chance to win. It's what you would expect out of a playoff football game.”
With the win, the Buffs improved to 10-2 on the year and the 10 wins are the most in a season since 11 in 2008. It was the fourth NCAA Tournament win for WT and the first in school history on the road as the Buffs improved to 4-5 all-time in the tournament. It also was the second win against a ranked team for WT this season.
The Buffs were led by Robinson's career-high 235 yards, but the entire team contributed time and time again Saturday. It was the most rushing yards in a game since Tyson Williams had 203 yards versus East Central on Nov. 13, 2010. Robinson had a career-high 30 carries in the game for a 7.8 average. Junior wide receiver Torrence Allen had 142 yards on seven receptions as he made big plays over and over.
Junior quarterback Dustin Vaughan struggled early as he was just 3 of 8 with two interceptions for 49 yards in the first quarter, but settled down and finished the game 19 of 31 with 269 yards and two scores. Vaughan was quite impressive with his feet as he had a season-high 10 rushes for 69 yards.
Defensively, the Buffs made big plays for the final three quarters as sophomore defensive back Torian Oakley and junior Taylor McCuller each had 11 tackles, while sophomore defensive back Chris Ceazer had 10 stops. Junior linebacker Kyle Voss had four tackles, but a huge 14-yard sack and two tackles for loss for 20 yards. WT had three sacks as CSC entered as the No. 14 team nationally in sack allowed at just .82 per game.
WT amassed 580 yards of total offense on 269 yards passing and a season-high 311 yards on the ground as the Buffs are known for its passing. The defense held the Eagles, who average 185.27 yards on the ground to just 72 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
With the Buffs up 38-23 late in the fourth, Chadron State moved right down the field as Nathan Ross caught a four-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 remaining for a 38-30 Buff lead. Off a high bounce on the onside kick, the Eagles regained possession as Kyle Vinich jumped high and got the ball at the CSC 47.
Three incomplete passes including a pass breakup by junior linebacker Brian Johnson forced CSU into a 4th and 10 from the WT 38. On a busted play, WT junior defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks had Eagle quarterback Jonn McLain dead to rights, but McLain threw it up and somehow Allan Schmaltz caught it, but came up just inches short of a first down as WT took over on downs. Robinson ran for 45 yards to the CSC 28 clinching the win.
“When we came off the field after we scored our final touchdown, the first thing I said was this is not over,” Vaughan added. “We know very well these games are not over no matter how far ahead you are. I think the experience against MSU, although I wish we could take it back, ended up helping us at the end of the game as our defense did a great job of holding them.”
After two first downs on the Buffs opening possession, Vaughan had a pass on 3rd and 10 from the CSC 37 intercepted by Bryant Miller for the Eagles' 20th interception of the season. The Eagles took over at their 24 and moved down the field with four nice passes from Jonn McLain getting a first down at the Buffs' 20. McLain called his own number from four-yards out for a 7-0 lead with 8:21 remaining on an eight play, 76 yard drive in 4:07. McLain went 5 of 5 for 58 yards on the drive with passes to five different receivers.
Following a three-and-out by the Buffs, McLain flipped the ball to backup quarterback Brandon Gorsuch, who was lined up as a wide receiver, to Travis Reeves for a 52-yard pass to the WT five. McLain then threw a touchdown pass to Dominic Morris for a 14-0 lead with 4:59 remaining in the first quarter.
The Buffalo offense got going on the ensuing drive as Robinson had a nice run and catch followed by a 37-yard catch from redshirt freshman Jarrian Rhone setting the Buffs up inside the 20. Vaughan threw his second interception of the game as Trelan Taylor picked off the pass in the end zone for his team-leading eighth interception of the season.
“The heart of this football team in unexplainable,” Vaughan said. “We say all the time we are a family and we'd do anything for each other and I think we showed that today. Especially in the beginning of the game I threw those two picks and I was hoping we get something going and these guys never once questioned our ability to get going and we feed off of each other and got the offense going. I give a lot of credit to our offensive line as they have done a great job all year. That is a whole lot of the reason why we do what we do on offense. Give credit to those guys as I love having all of that time in the pocket.”
A big sack from senior defensive lineman Tyrell Higgins sacked McLain on third and long for an 11-yard loss forcing Chadron State into its first punt of the game following the interception. The Buffs were not able to get anything going following the sack as the Buffs had to punt. The Buffs forced the second three-and-out and got good field possession as Josh Borm's punt went just 20 yards into a stiff wind early in the second quarter beginning the drive at the Chadron State 45.
The Buffs had a 4th and two from the CSC 14 as junior kicker Sergio Castillo, Jr., kicked a 29-yard field goal, but the Eagles were offside resulting in a first down at the seven. Robinson made the Eagles pay as he ran in from 10 yards out for a 14-7 with 7:46 remaining in the second quarter.
A big defensive play by the Buffs, on 4th and two from the 50, McLain fumbled giving the ball back to the Buffs with five minutes remaining in the half. Robinson rushed for 10 yards, followed by a nice 21-yard pass from Vaughan to Rhone and an 11-yard pass to the CSC 10. Vaughan then threw his first touchdown pass of the game as junior wide receiver Jace Jackson caught the scoring pass on a four play, 52-yard drive using just 1:15 following the CSC miscue and a 14-14 score.
After a punt by CSC, the Buffs took over with just over a minute left. There was a long delay after WT junior wide receiver Torrence Allen put a big hit on CSC senior safety Phil Rivera who was carted off the field, but was able to give a thumbs up which was an encouraging sign. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons and later returned to the field. Following the delay, the Buffs moved down the field and Castillo, Jr., kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead at intermission.
For the half, it was a tale of two quarters as CSC dominated the first quarter for a 14-0 lead, but the Buffs responded with a 17-point second quarter. Robinson had 109 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown in the first half, while Vaughan was 10 of 20 for 104 yards and a score along with the two interceptions.
On the opening possession of the second half for Chadron State, the Eagles' drive stalled, but was able to get a field goal tying the game at 17 with 12:31 remaining in the third quarter on a 39-yard attempt from Alex Ferdinand.
A big catch by Nathan Ross and a penalty on roughing the passer put the Eagles in great position at the Buffs' 35. McLain had a great look into the end zone as the pass led Cody Roes just a little too much setting up a 46-yard field goal from Ferdinand for a 20-17 CSC lead with 7:22 remaining in the third quarter.
On a third and six from the WT 20, Vaughan threw a bomb into the win to Allen who made a great catch and had the CSC defender turned around running for 73 yards to the Eagles' seven. It put Allen over 1,000 yards receiving for the season as he and Robinson became the first rusher/receiver duo to go over 1,000 yards in the same season since 1994 when Norman White ran for 1,122 yards and Brad Bailey had 1,552 receiving yards.
Robinson ran in on third and goal from the four for his second touchdown of the game giving WT a 24-20 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
A huge, 15-yard sack by junior linebacker Kyle Voss on third and five from the WT 10, forced a 42-yard field goal from Ferdinand trimming the Buff lead to 24-23 with 13:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Another long catch by Allen for 38 yards set the Buffs up at the CSC 14. Vaughan then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jackson for his second score of the game and a 31-23 lead with 9:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Buff defense came up big again as senior Aaron Wampler tallied his third sack of the season pushing the Eagles back to the 50 and got an incomplete pass with a lot of pressure on McLain as CSU had to punt with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Allen came up with a huge first down on 3rd and 10 with six minutes to play as he took a screen pass and a spin move for a first down at the CSC 48. Robinson ran in from 24-yards out for his third score of the day with 3:22 remaining, giving WT a 38-23 lead.