Tarleton State (9-1, 4-1) is playing for outright Lone Star Conference and LSC South titles and the right to host a national playoff game. All the No. 7 Texans have to do is beat West Texas A&M (5-5, 3-2).
Sounds simple, right?
The Texans, No. 3 in this week’s Super Region Four rankings, have entered the final week of the regular season with a playoff spot on the line each of the last four years - with three of those games also surrounded by league title implications - and each time they lost to WTAMU.
There was the 30-26 loss in 2005 when Don Carthel lifted WT to LSC supremacy in his first year as head coach.
Then a 21-16 loss to the Buffaloes in 2006 as the Texans settled for a South Division tri-championship instead of winning it outright.
In 2007 WT was in firm control most of the night as Tarleton fell 39-14.
And in 2008, the one that hurt most, the Texans went to Canyon and were blown out 51-0.
Each time Tarleton was left sitting at home when the NCAA Division II playoffs began a week later, including in 2007 when the Texans missed out on the post season despite going 9-2.
That’s why this year’s Tarleton team wants no part of a 9-2 finish and no part of a co-championship in the LSC and the South.
WT started the year slow, going 1-5 without star running back Keithon Flemming. Since his return, the Buffs are a perfect 4-0, beating opponents by an average of 22.5 points. Each week the margin of victory has been greater than the week prior.
During that stretch, Flemming has averaged 11 touchdowns - eight rushing, three receiving - and 118.2 all-purpose yards including 82.2 on the ground. The Buffaloes average 423.1 yards per game for the year, 493.3 since his return.
WT quarterback Taylor Harris is second in the LSC in passing yards with 2,920. He is 262-406 passing (64.5 percent) and has thrown 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He will be challenging a Tarleton secondary that is best in the conference against the pass, allowing just 182.2 yards per game through the air.
Overall the offenses stack up fairly evenly, though they do it different ways. Tarleton has the No. 3 rushing offense in the LSC (157.5) but is eighth in passing (229.5). WT is No. 2 in passing (343.3) but ninth in rushing (79.6). Both are hovering around the 400-yard mark offensively with the Buffs picking up 423.1 total yards per contest and Tarleton 387. In scoring offense, Tarleton leads by less than a point with 30.8 points per game to WT’s 30.2.
Defense is where the Texans have the biggest advantage on paper, though both rank in the top half of the conference. Tarleton is No. 2 in points allowed (14.0) and No. 2 in total defense (275.8 yards). WT is No. 6 (24.7) and No. 5 (343.1), respectively.
Kickoff Saturday at Tarleton Memorial Stadium is set for 7 p.m.