What can a football team possibly do as an encore after winning a national playoff game against a rival school 57-56 in double overtime?
A win over the only unbeaten team remaining in NCAA Division II football, the one ranked No. 1 nationally in both the coaches’ and media polls, would certainly do the trick.
So would the program’s first ever win in a second-round national playoff game.
That’s what No. 12 Tarleton State (10-2) will be gunning for when the Texans visit No. 1 Central Washington (11-0) at 2 p.m. (CST) Saturday in Ellensburg, Wash. The winner faces No. 2 Northwest Missouri State or No. 18 Abilene Christian in next week’s Super Region Four championship game.
Tarleton head coach Sam McElroy, who picked up his first post season win as a college head coach and his 40th win in five seasons at Tarleton last week, says the Texans have put their thrilling win against Texas A&M-Kingsville behind them.
“We’ve put that game behind us. As much as a joy it was and as memorable as it was, we’ll have time later to look back on games like that,” McElroy said. “You can’t sit here and think about what you did before, you have to make plans to prepare for your next opponent.”
Well said, especially when that next opponent is an undefeated conference champion who has a win over last season’s defending national champ (Minnesota-Duluth), is playing at home and is the top seed in the regional playoff bracket.
“They are a very talented football team,” McElroy said of CWU. “They have a big, aggressive, fast defense that ranks as one of the best in the nation. They have a massive offensive line and they control the ball well. They are very deserving of the No. 1 ranking.”
The CWU defense is surrendering just 11.6 points and 242.5 yards per game. The unit is led by Buddy Wood with 87 tackles including 15.5 for loss, and Prince Hall with 86 tackles including 14.5 behind the line.
Offensively CWU is paced by wide receiver Johnny Spevak with 893 yards and 11 touchdowns on 68 receptions. He has made a living hauling in receptions from quarterbacks Ryan Robertson and Cole Morgan. Both trigger pullers have played in nine games, with Robertson starting eight and Morgan three. Robertson has passed for 1,275 yards, Cole 1,000.
On the ground, the Wildcats are led by Randall Eldridge with 765 yards. Like the Texans, the Wildcats have more than one potent ball carrier, as Bryson Kelly has rushed for 500 yards and Jerome Morris has 221.
“They are a lot like the teams in the (Lone Star Conference) South (Division), they’re big, they run well and they’re physical,” McElroy said.
That said, the head coach feels like having gone through the South gauntlet is a benefit for his team.
“It’s not like we’ll see something totally different than what we’ve seen during the season,” he said. “I think our schedule and the type of teams we played in the South will certainly help us.”