Story and photo courtesy of West Texas A&M Athletics
PUEBLO, Colo. – The West Texas A&M football team exacted some revenge Saturday with a dominating performance on both sides of the ball as it upset top-ranked Colorado State-Pueblo at the Netta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl with a 34-13 win in the NCAA Quarterfinal. With the win the Buffs improved to 12-2 on the year, while CSU-Pueblo ended its season a 12-1.
The Buffs, who avenged a season-opening 44-34 loss to these same Thunderwolves Aug. 30, silenced the announced crowd of 10,217 midway through the first half. However, the Buffs had a nice contingent of fans of approximately 800 who made the five-hour trip from Canyon.
West Texas A&M should find out where and when it will play top-seeded out of Super Region One and second-ranked Winston-Salem State Sunday.
WT was led by junior quarterback Dustin Vaughan who passed for 324 yards and three scores on 24 of 38 passes with one interception. Senior running back Khiry Robinson tallied 181 yards on the ground and had two catches for 14 yards with a score. Junior wide receiver Nathan Slaughter came up with catch after catch after catch as he tallied 170 yards receiving and two touchdowns on seven receptions.
Defensively the Buffs dominated the CSU-Pueblo this time as it held the high-powered Thunderwolves' rushing offense to just 32 yards on the ground as CSUP had 265 yards on the ground in the first meeting in August. CSUP quarterback Ross Dausin didn't have a lot of time in the pocket as the relentless WT defense sacked him seven times for 46 yards led by junior defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks who had 2.5 sacks for 21 yards and a forced fumble. He now has a school-record 19 sacks on the season. Junior linebacker Taylor McCuller had 14 tackles in the game including eight solo stops as he broke the school-record for tackles in a season with 155 as Joe Calhoun had 151 in 1995.
WT amassed 517 yards of offense as they had 193 yards on the ground and 324 through the air and held CSUP to just 225 yards of total offense. For the second straight week, the Buffs have knocked off an undefeated and top five ranked team as WT won at No. 4 Ashland last week 33-28.
There was an energy and a confidence from the opening kick on the Buffalo sideline as the teams traded punts for the first three possessions and the Buffs turned the ball over on downs on a 4th and 1 from the CSU-Pueblo 45 midway through the first quarter.
The WT defense came up big with a stop as junior linebacker Bryan Johnson came up with the first sack of the game forcing a punt.
That's went the WT offense started clicking as the Buffs marched a season-high 94 yards on three plays in just 1:19 of time as Vaughan completed two passes to Nathan Slaughter for 91 yards, including a 74-yard strike on a flea-flicker as Slaughter caught it on the near side and reversed field for a 7-0 lead.
The Thunderwolves went 3-and-out on their next possession as the momentum began to grow and the 800 or so WT fans continued to get louder and louder. The Buffs started inside the CSUP 40 as Vaughan completed pass to redshirt freshman Jarrian Rhone for 3 yards and a first down on a 3rd and three to the 18. After the change of the quarter, Vaughan and Slaughter hooked up once again for a 14-0 lead on a 13-yard pass and score.
The Thunderwolves went 18 plays in 8:03, but the bend, but don't break WT defense came up huge once again as senior defensive lineman came up with a huge nine-yard sack on Dausin on a 3rd and six from the WT eight yard line forcing a field goal.
The Buffaloes came right back with an 8-play, 71-yard drive as Vaughan and Slaugher hooked up once again on a 40-yard pass down the CSUP 31. Another 10-yard pass to Slaughter put the Buffs on the 17. On 3rd and goal from the goal line, Vaughan threw a pass to Robinson in the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
WT took over late in the second quarter after senior defensive back Jordan Smith picked off Dausin for Smith's third interception of the season. The Buffs marched from their own 21 to the CSUP 28 as junior kicker Sergio Castillo, Jr., kicked a 45-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in the half for a 24-3 lead.
CSUP drove to the WT 47 on the opening possession of the third quarter and punter Brandon Kliesen, who ranks second nationally in punting, placed the ball at the WT 1. On the first play from the one, the snap went wide of Vaughan, but Robinson was there to collect it and managed a two yard gain avoiding a disaster.
WT punted from its 22, but CSU-Pueblo return specialist Kieren Duncan returned the punt 46 yards to the WT 27 as the home crowd began to come to life.
The Buff “D” stepped up once again with good pressure on Dausin as he was sacked by Westbrooks and sophomore linebacker Shane Sobnosky for a seven yard loss as the Thunderwolves were on the doorstep. Greg O'Donnell kicked his second field goal of the game for a 24-6 score with 6:06 remaining in the third quarter.
A big pass interference penalty on CSUP kept the ensuing Buff drive alive as they marched to the CSUP 33 where Castillo kicked a 50-yard field goal for a 27-6 advantage.
WT put the game out of reach on the defensive side as Westbrooks sacked and forced a Dausin fumble as junior linebacker LeBrandon Mosley picked up the loose ball and ran in from 26-yards out on the ensuing CSUP possession for a 34-6 lead late in the third quarter. It was first fumble returned for a touchdown by the Buffs since Chris Metcalf returned one 25 yards versus Texas A&M-Kingsville in Cowboys Stadium earlier this season.
The longest run of the game from the Thunderwolves came late in the third as Matthews scampered 33 yards to the WT 42 on the next possession. Following the change of the quarter, CSUP marched down field on the shoulders of Matthews and Dausin connected on an 18-yard strike to Josh Sandoval for a score and a 34-13 Buff lead with 12:01 remaining.
Great clock management by the Buffs followed as they went on a season-high 16 play, 89-yard drive getting to the CSUP 6 as a Vaughan pass was intercepted in the end zone with 4:26 remaining.