CHADRON, Neb. – A career-high 235 yards rushing by West Texas A&M senior running back Khiry Robinson helped bring the Buffaloes back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit for a thrilling 38-30 win against Chadron State in the first round of the NCAA Division II Championship on Saturday afternoon at Elliott Field at Don Beebe Stadium on the campus of Chadron State. With the win, the Buffaloes advance to play at Ashland next Saturday in the second round.
“It was a great football game with two really good teams out there,” head coach Don Carthel said. “It was a very physical game with a lot of big hits and big plays. Both offenses played very well and both defensives made some good stops to give their teams the chance to win. It’s what you would expect out of a playoff football game.”
With the win, the Buffs improved to 10-2 on the year and the 10 wins are the most in a season since 11 in 2008. It was the fourth NCAA tournament win for WT and the first in school history on the road as the Buffs improved to 4-5 all-time in the tournament. It also was the second win against a ranked team for WT this season.
The Buffs were led by Robinson’s career-high 235 yards, but the entire team contributed time and time again Saturday. It was the most rushing yards in a game since Tyson Williams had 203 yards versus East Central on Nov. 13, 2010. Robinson had a career-high 30 carries in the game for a 7.8 average. Junior wide receiver Torrence Allen had 142 yards on seven receptions.
Junior quarterback Dustin Vaughan struggled early as he was 3 of 8 with two interceptions for 49 yards in the first quarter, but settled down and finished the game 19 of 31 with 269 yards and two scores. Vaughan added 10 rushes for 69 yards.
Defensively, sophomore defensive back Torian Oakley and junior Taylor McCuller each had 11 tackles, while sophomore defensive back Chris Ceazer had 10 stops. Junior linebacker Kyle Voss had four tackles, but a 14-yard sack and two tackles for loss for 20 yards. WT had three sacks as CSC entered as the No. 14 team nationally in sack allowed at just .82 per game.
WT amassed 580 yards of total offense on 269 yards passing and a season-high 311 yards on the ground as the Buffs are known for its passing. The defense held the Eagles, who average 185.27 yards on the ground to just 72 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
With the Buffs up 38-23 late in the fourth, Chadron State moved right down the field as Nathan Ross caught a four-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 remaining for a 38-30 Buff lead. Off a high bounce on the onside kick, the Eagles regained possession as Kyle Vinich jumped high and got the ball at the CSC 47.
Three incomplete passes including a pass breakup by junior linebacker Brian Johnson forced CSU into a 4th and 10 from the WT 38. On a busted play, WT junior defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks had Eagle quarterback Jonn McLain dead to rights, but McLain threw it up and somehow Allan Schmaltz caught it, but came up just inches short of a first down as WT took over on downs. Robinson ran for 45 yards to the CSC 28 clinching the win.
“When we came off the field after we scored our final touchdown, the first thing I said was this is not over,” Vaughan added. “We know very well these games are not over no matter how far ahead you are. I think the experience against MSU, although I wish we could take it back, ended up helping us at the end of the game as our defense did a great job of holding them.”
After two first downs on the Buffs opening possession, Vaughan had a pass on 3rd and 10 from the CSC 37 intercepted by Bryant Miller for the Eagles’ 20th interception of the season. The Eagles took over at their 24 and moved down the field with four passes from Jonn McLain getting a first down at the Buffs’ 20. McLain called his own number from four-yards out for a 7-0 lead with 8:21 remaining on an eight play, 76 yard drive in 4:07. McLain went 5 of 5 for 58 yards on the drive with passes to five different receivers.
“The heart of this football team in unexplainable,” Vaughan said. “We say all the time we are a family and we’d do anything for each other and I think we showed that [Saturday]. Especially in the beginning of the game I threw those two picks and I was hoping we get something going and these guys never once questioned our ability to get going and we feed off of each other and got the offense going. I give a lot of credit to our offensive line as they have done a great job all year. That is a whole lot of the reason why we do what we do on offense. Give credit to those guys as I love having all of that time in the pocket.”
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