One had to look pretty hard to find a downside to West Texas A&M’s season opener at Bain-Schaeffer Buffalo Stadium on Saturday night.
Hosting No. 17 Western Colorado, the Buffs did just about everything right, especially in the first half. Perhaps that’s what made the mistakes stand out in WT’s 44-6 victory which sent a message to future opponents for the rest of this season.
It was a solid enough win for sixth-year WT coach Hunter Hughes, but as is his custom, he found things which he felt needed work.
“We really had two mistakes, we kicked the ball out of bounds on a kickoff and we missed an extra point,” Hughes said. “The second half we got sloppy. We challenged the guys to come out and finish it.”
WT was never in serious trouble and led the whole way after taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field for a score.
The first half couldn’t have been scripted any better by the Buffs. They were the dominant team on both sides of the ball taking a 27-6 halftime lead, as they scored touchdowns on their first four possessions and only allowed a pair of field goals by Western Colorado after two drives inside the WT 10-yard line.
Except for a goal line interception in the final half-minute of the half, it was a nearly flawless half for WT senior quarterback Nick Gerber. Starting his fourth full season behind center, Gerber threw for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and finished the game hitting 15-of-25 passes for 186 yards along with running for 78 yards.
“Nick could be a coach here,” Hughes said. “He looks at the game and knows what defenses are going to do and he puts guys in the right position when he’s out there. When you have a guy like him out there it’s a difference maker. He makes us go. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The Buffs took the opening kickoff and went 76 yards on nine plays, capped with a 27-yard scoring pass from Gerber to Noah Bogardus. Gerber later threw a 4-yard scoring pass to Tyrie Tipton for a 20-3 lead late in the first quarter after Gage Smith hit Malcom Wesley on a kickoff return and Carson Otworth recovered the ball at the Western Colorado 19.
In between those scoring passes, Gerber kept the ball on an option in running 45 yards for a touchdown.
Defensively, the Buffs allowed the Mountaineers only 122 yards in the first half. Despite two productive drives, Western Colorado had to settle for field goals of 20 and 22 yards by Alec Fonseca for their points.
Hughes liked that, but he wanted this year’s returning players to learn from some not-so-positive experience last year.
“We just told them that last year there were two games where we had the lead at halftime and we ended up losing because of the way the defense played,” Hughes said. “We challenged them to be the type of team that’s going to step on the other team’s throat and not let them breathe. I think they took that to heart.”
The defense lived up to its end of the deal in the second half as well. WT could have won by an even bigger margin, but the first two trips inside Western Colorado’s 5 line in the second half resulted in only three points.
Hughes liked what he saw from his team up front on both sides of the ball.
“Other than not scoring down there,” said Hughes in evaluating the offensive line’s performance. “We got a big turnover on a kickoff in the first half on a big hit. I think that was a huge momentum shift. We haven’t been very consistent on special teams in the last year. I thought we did a good job with that.”
Jarrod Compton led the Buffs with 87 yards on 18 carries. Isaiah Smallwood ran for 61 yards and two touchdowns.
For a look at full game stats, please visit: https://gobuffsgo.com/sports/football/stats/2022/western-colorado/boxscore/9709