Tarleton State picked up arguably its biggest win since the 2001 playoffs by knocking off Abilene Christian last week.
But that victory won’t mean nearly as much if the Texans don’t win both their remaining two games against Angelo State and West Texas A&M.
Tarleton (8-1, 3-1) moved up to No. 7 in both the American Football Coaches Association and D2football.com polls this week. The Texans are currently No. 6 in the Super Region 4 rankings, evidence that they must not lose again in order to remain in the top six and advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Wins the next two weeks would also secure at least a share of the Lone Star Conference league-wide title and the South Division crown for the Texans. Two wins and a loss by Texas A&M-Kingsville would mean Tarleton wins both titles outright for the first time since joining the league in 1995. The Texans split the LSC and South championships with TAMUK in 2001.
“We’re not talking about all the possible scenarios, we’re just focusing on beating a good Angelo team,” Tarleton head coach Sam McElroy said. “If we’re fortunate enough to win, then next week there will be all kinds of fun things to talk about.”
Angelo State (6-3, 2-2) is also in must-win mode as the No. 10 team in the region. The Rams need wins against Tarleton and TAMUK to have any shot at climbing into the top six.
McElroy believes Angelo’s 43-15 loss to WT last week only made the Rams even more dangerous entering Saturday’s showdown.
“I think losing that game will just make them that much more motivated,” he said.
Kickoff in the LSC South match-up at San Angelo Stadium is set for 6 p.m. Saturday.
The do-or-die themes to weeks 10 and 11 of the season is nothing for Tarleton, which has been in the same situation in each of the four previous seasons. The Texans showed signs of changing their late-season fortune’s with last week’s win, but head coach Sam McElroy says there are still areas in which his team must play better.
“There are a lot of real basic things we didn’t execute the way we would have liked. Some of that was because of ACU, because they have good football team,” McElroy said. “But we have to do a better job this week.”
Just as it was in Tarleton’s 13-6 win against ACU, defense could very well be the theme again on Saturday. Both clubs rank in the top half of the league in numerous defensive categories. Tarleton is second in total defense (268.2 yards per game), second in scoring defense (14.0) first in defending the pass (176.0) and third in stopping the run (92.2). Angelo is sixth in both total (355.3) and scoring (25.0) defense and second against the run (69.9).
The only statistical weakness by either stop unit is Angelo’s inability to limit opponents’ passing attack. The Rams are 11th in the 13-team league in pass defense, allowing 298.2 yards per game.
Tarleton’s pass production has been on the rise in recent weeks. The Texans are still just ninth in the league in passing offense (232.1), but have averaged 290 in South Division games. Junior quarterback Scott Grantham, a third-year starter, remains on pace to become the school’s all-time leading passer early next season.
Angelo has its own proven signal caller in Josh Neiswander, who is third in the LSC in passing yards (276.1), touchdowns passing (25) and passer efficiency rating (146.0). He already owns ASU’s single-season record for completions with 190 and is one TD pass and 131 yards shy of setting two marks. The fifth-year junior (he redshirted as a freshman and was granted a medical redshirt last year) is on pace to break all QB-related records at Angelo including total offense.
Tarleton has won seven straight against the Rams including a 31-24 victory on national television in Stephenville last year. The Rams still lead the all-time series 14-11 thanks in large part to a nine-game win streak from 1969 to 1995.
This meeting, however, will be unlike all previous bouts between the schools as it is the first time they have played with both teams facing a must-win scenario as far as the playoffs are concerned.
“There’s no doubt it’s another big game for us and it’s a big game for them, too. We’ve always had good games against those guys,” McElroy said. “It’s going to be another tough, physical game, and just like most games in the South the team that makes the fewest mistakes is probably going to win