West Texas A&M running back Khalil Harris jets down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Angelo State on Saturday night at Buffaloes Stadium in Canyon. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]When a team faces adversity how will they respond? Will they fold their tent, or rise to the occasion. The West Texas Texas football team decided to rise to the occasion and earn a thrilling 34-27 win, avenging a loss to rival Angelo State from earlier in the year Saturday night in front of close to 4,000 fans at Buffaloes Stadium.
It was a tremendously stressful week for the Buffs. WT played without 20 players, seven of those coming on the defensive line, not to mention offensive coordinator Russell Martin due to COVID-19 issues.
Even with a shorthanded squad it didn’t stop WT from unifying as a complete unit to get the victory.
“Dealing with this year you never know what is going to come your way,” said WT head coach Hunter Hughes, who is now 19-18 in his fourth season. “Thursday we got hit with a lot of things COVID related but we had a lot of guys see their first action step up.”
The first quarter looked like a repeat of the Rams 21-10 win against the Buffs on Sept. 26. ASU (1-2 overall) jumped out to a 12-0 lead while WT mustered nine total yards in the first 15 minutes. But the second quarter WT started gaining momentum through do-it-all senior Jordan Johnson and quarterback Nick Gerber.
WT offensive line coach Cooper Bassett celebrates after his Buffs took down Angelo State 34-27 on Saturday night. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
WT offensive line coach Cooper Bassett found out late Thursday night he’d be calling the offense for Martin who had to stay home. Bassett started utilizing Johnson out of the backfield, in the Wildcat formation, and sped up the tempo for Gerber to go to work.
Johnson found the endzone on a 1-yard plunge on a fourth and goal, cutting ASU’s lead 12-7 with 6:37 left in the half. Gerber got hot finding open receivers throwing for 150 yards in the second quarter alone including a 61-yard strike to Glen Mbaku that propelled the Buffs into half with a 14-12 advantage.
“It was nerve racking,” said Bassett about being the interim offensive coordinator. “But it’s an exciting position and I want to do it later in my career. It was a team effort and our assistant coaches did a lot to help me. Nick Gerber is the ultimate leader and Jordan Johnson is the ultimate weapon. I knew with how physical we started to play I could go to those guys.”
The second half was highlighted by momentum stealing plays for WT.
Trailing 19-14, the Buffs drove inside the ASU 25-yard line. Gerber delivered a pass down the sideline into the endzone intended for Devin Neal, but the ball was deflected and intercepted by Rams safety Leddy French II. French opted to bring the ball out returning it to his own 13-yard line when WT true freshman and Lubbock Monterey grad Tyrie Tipton punched the ball loose on the tackle and recovered the fumble giving WT new life. The Buffs took advantage a few plays later on Johnson’s second 1-yard TD, as WT retook the lead 21-19.
On the ensuing possession, clinging to that a 21-19 lead the Rams offense was driving inside the the Buffs 20-yard line. That’s when a make-shift defensive line and linebacker Hayden Dennis pressured ASU QB Zach Bronkhorst to throw it right to Buff safety Satchel Escalante who took it 85-yards to the house.
WT receiver Devin Neal, left, celebrates with safety Satchel Escalante after his 85-yard pick-six against Angelo State on Saturday night. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
“I expected them to throw it but I didn’t expect it to come right at me,” Escalante said. “I then saw daylight and I thought here’s my opportunity for a pick-six.”
WT’s final thrilling play came with 7:41 remaining. The Rams tied the game 27-27, but the Buffs had the ball at midfield. Gerber called a delayed draw to running back Khalil Harris who found daylight and sped down the sideline showing incredible balance for the eventual game-winning score, 34-27.
The WT defense then stepped up on back-to-back drives that shutdown a comeback attempt for the win.
“We haven’t played in three weeks, and we were ready,” Hughes said. “The most satisfying part was winning a game. Yes, it was Angelo and they are a conference rival, but it was nice to see a great team effort.”
WT linebacker Eric Collins runs upfield to make a tackle against Angelo State. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
- This was the first win against Angelo State in Canyon since the 2013 season.
- Senior linebacker Eric Collins made his 37th consecutive start in a Buff uniform a memorable one. The speedy 6-foot-4 220 pound star made a career-high 14 tackles, 2.5 for a loss with a sack.
- Johnson finished his big game with 43 rushing yards on 13 carries and two key touchdowns.
- Harris was 1-yard shy of the century mark, chewing up 99 yards rushing on nine carries including the 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
- Gerber completed 13-of-22 passes for 184 yards with a scoring pass.
West Texas A&M 34, Angelo State 27
Angelo State 5 7 7 8 — 27
West Texas A&M 14 13 7 — 34First Quarter
ASU— Safety, Rideaux Zorhan blocks punt out of end zone, 8:22
ASU— Dajuan Adkinson FG 32, 2:20
ASU— Alfred Grear 17 run (Adkinson kick), 10:59
WT— Jordan Johnson 1 run (Gage Urias kick), 6:37
WT— Glen Mbaku 61 pass from Nick Gerber (Urias kick), 1:16
ASU— Grear 54 run (Adkinson kick), 12:57
WT— Johnson 1 run (Urias kick), 8:49
WT— Satchel Escalante 85 interception return (kick failed)
ASU— Rasheen Green 13 pass from Zack Bronkhorst (Kellen Pachot pass from Bronkhorst), 8:53
WT— Khalil Harris 50 run (Urias kick), 7:41
First Downs 22 14
Rushing 215 151
Passing 232 184
Total yards 447 335
C-A-I 20-42-2 13-22-1
Punts-Avg. 6-30.8 4-39.8
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 8-55 2-10
RUSHING— Angelo State: Bronkhorst 14-43, Grear 11-138, Nathaniel Omayebu 9-22, Kason McCullough 1-13, Austin Landry 1-4, Zorhan 1-(-5). West Texas A&M: Johnson 13-43, Harris 9-99, Brandon Blair 8-22, Nick Gerber 4-12, Prince Ugwu 1-1, Team 1-(-16).
PASSING— Angelo State: Bronkhorst 20-42-2-232. West Texas A&M: Gerber 13-22-1-184.
RECEIVING— Angelo State: Green 4-65, Omayebu 5-49, Kellen Pachot 4-21, Austin Landry 2-48, Dagen Dunham 2-7, Larry Johnson 1-18, Zorhan 1-12, Chris Brooks 1-12. West Texas A&M: Devin Neal 2-54, Markell Stephens-Peppers 2-15, Harris 3-8, Mbaku 1-61, Tyrie Tipton 2-19, Blair 2-15, Kenneath Redd 1-21.