Buffs relish being only NCAA Division II team to have played a football game

By: Cory Hogue, LoneStarSportsDaily.com

West Texas A&M opened its 2020 season last Saturday by thumping Oklahoma Panhandle State 58-7.

In a typical season, the Buffs win would barely make waves across the NCAA Division II landscape while this writer would write a short recap for texasfootball.com with a focus on a good start to the season.

2020 has not been a typical year and a season opening football game on Sept. 19 was big news in Division II as the Buffs were the only team to play last week. The Buffs game was the only game featuring a Division II team so far this season.

Most Division II conferences postponed fall sports to the Spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the costs associated with following the NCAA guidelines for testing.

West Texas A&M felt it was best to play football this fall and other DII teams around the country have slowly been following the Buffs lead including fellow LSC member Angelo State along with multiple teams from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

“It’s crazy that we’re in mid-September and three months ago no one was playing,” West Texas A&M head coach Hunter Hughes said. “We said we were playing then Angelo State said they would play. We were able to start getting some games scheduled then the RMAC has four teams that are playing and some of the MIAA teams decided to play this last week and we’re scheduling those teams now.”

The Buffs originally scheduled four games for the fall season but when the NCAA decided to allow teams to play a maximum of 10 games without players losing eligibility, the Buffs schedule quickly grew.

WT currently has a total of nine games on their schedule as the Buffs announced home games against Missouri Western and Pittsburg State on Tuesday. The Buffs season currently runs through Thanksgiving weekend.

“We’re ending the season with Pittsburgh State on Thanksgiving weekend and it’s huge because to get where you want to be in Division II you have to prepare to play on Thanksgiving weekend and that’s what we’re doing,” Hughes said. “We’re playing playoff caliber teams with Angelo State, Colorado Mesa, Missouri Western and Pittsburgh State and we’re still looking for more games.”

The Buffs are beginning a three-game road trip this week against Angelo State followed by trips to FCS opponents Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian. The remaining five games currently on the Buffs schedule are set to be played at beautiful Buffalo Stadium that opened in 2019.

“We’re fortunate teams are willing to come play here and financially it makes sense for us to host games because of the new stadium and what we can offer,” Hughes said. “We have a chance to go up against some big-time teams in SFA and Abilene Christian.”

WT used a punishing ground attack against OPSU last Saturday as they totaled 438 rushing yards. Buffs quarterback Nick Gerber was outstanding in his first game under new offensive coordinator Russ Martin as the Texas Tech transfer completed 16-of-17 passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns.

“We feel really strong about our offensive line and we have some good running backs. Nick was on target in the new offense and we were able to establish the run and open up the passing game,” Hughes said. “The one (Gerber) missed other people think should’ve been a pass interference call. It was one of those calls that could’ve gone either way.”

The Buffs defense was also solid as they held OPSU to 1.8 yards per carry on 35 attempts.

“I think we lead all of Division II in every statistical category right now,” Hughes joked.

Hughes is just like every other football coach in the country as he will always find areas that need improvement regardless of the final score.

“We have to do a better job of not making as many mental mistakes. Our athleticism overcame those mistakes last week, but we need to get better in some areas,” Hughes said. “I’m thrilled with how we did things last week and we’ll keep moving forward.”

Through all the craziness and uncertainty that has been the hallmark of 2020, Hughes is thankful his team can have a sense of normalcy and play football this fall.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s fun to be one of the only teams playing,” Hughes said. “We were the only Division II team playing last week and we’re one of only two teams playing this week.”

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