McElroy - We have to win to get in

Tarleton State is on the inside looking out.  For now.

Once again for the Texans, currently No. 6 in the NCAA Division II Super Region 4 football rankings, their season, says head coach Sam McElroy, hangs in the balance with West Texas A&M, No. 4 in the region, ahead in Saturday’s regular-season finale.

The top six teams in next week’s final regional rakings will advance to the national playoffs, somewhere no Tarleton team has gone since 2004.  Despite teams below the Texans already having three or more losses and two of them having been soundly defeated by Tarleton, McElroy says Saturday is a must-win for his team – for the fourth straight year.

“We’re in the same boat as we have been each of the last three years,” McElroy said.  “We need to win to get in.  Our kids understand that’s the position we’re in.  If we were sitting at 9-1 right now, the brackets may be pretty much set, but that’s not the case.”

WT is 9-1 on the season and 4-1 in the LSC South.  Tarleton is 8-2 and 3-2, respectively.  The Buffs are coming off a 59-9 rout of Northeastern State, the Texans off a 31-24 win against south rival Angelo State.

Since McElroy, who is 30-11 at Tarleton, took over the program in 2005, the Texans have had playoff hopes going into season-ending battles against West Texas A&M every year, and each of the previous three went in the Buffaloes’ favor.

In 2005, Tarleton led most of the way before a Buffalo comeback clinched the first of three consecutive Lone Star Conference and LSC South titles for WT, all under the direction of Don Carthel.  That contest, played in Stephenville, ended 30-26, and was followed by another close one when a Tarleton comback bid fell short, 21-16, in Canyon in 2006.  WT dominated the Texans in Stephenville last year, 39-14.

“We’ve been here three times before and we played well in two of those games,” McElroy said.  “We certainly didn’t play well last year, but we look forward to going out and executing on Saturday.”

No. 9 WT may not be quite as talented as No. 2 Abilene Christian in some areas, McElroy says, but they are the only team on the  No. 19 Texans’ schedule that is comparable to the conference champion Wildcats, who defeated Tarleton, 37-17, two weeks ago in Abilene.

“They have a very talented offensive line and a really good running back in Keithon Fleming,” McElroy says of WT.  “He’s not as good as Bernard Scott, but he’s very talented and can hurt you in a lot of ways.  Charlie Martin is great at wide receiver; you have to know where he’s at all times.  Defensively, they’re bigger but probably not as fast as ACU.”

McElroy and his team knows they need their best performance of the season at clutch time.

“We have to execute,” he said.  “We can’t make many mistakes against a team like West Texas and have a chance to win.”

The head coach says he relishes the opportunity to play in the atmosphere presented by Kimbrough Memorial Stadium in Canyon, where Buffalo home crowds have averaged in excess of 13,000 this season.

“They draw large crowds and usually have a great atmosphere,” he says.  “It will be a fun game to see and a fun one to be a part of.”

And the drama couldn’t be better.

“You couldn’t really as for anything more than to control your own destiny in the last week of the season,” McElroy explained.  “Getting to this position is what we’ve worked hard for all year.  We’ve taken care of business and we don’t need help from anybody else if we win on Saturday.”