San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 31st, 2008
Bobcats win opener with fourth quarter rally

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

Texas State escaped its football opener Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium with a 21-14 win against Angelo State, which wasn’t the kind of performance where one would hold it up and say, “Behold, the sublimely executed football game,” though it elaborated some of the main themes Head Coach Brad Wright emphasized during the offseason.

It was more the kind of win where one says, “We won, and that’s the important thing,” or, as Wright said repeatedly Saturday night, “They had 14 and we had 21.”

The stakes for football are high now that Texas State is campaigning for bowl brotherhood, and wins matter, wins of all kinds matter. Moral victories matter, close wins against Division II schools matter, any kind of an opening game win matters, any kind of a home game win matters and Texas State won all of those Saturday night. Texas State could easily have won none of them.

The Bobcats endured a night on which starting quarterback Bradley George really didn’t have it and their defense at times simply couldn’t stand up against Angelo State’s offense between the tackles. They trailed, 14-7, after three quarters and risked an embarrassing loss to a Division II school on their own field while their largest home crowd in two years wondered if they’re worth another Saturday night.

But Wright also saw evidence of the mentally tougher football team he wants. He saw a team that didn’t come down on itself against an opponent playing its game of the year. Another football team, like last September’s Texas State team, might have packed it in, as if a Division II foe weren’t worth beating, anyway. But this one weathered the storm, demonstrating the right mentality, if not the right football.

“It’s one of those days where I think we had Division II-itis,” Wright said. “I think we went at it not to lose instead of to win. The moral of the story is that we did win even if we didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I’m excited about the character that was displayed. We threw three interceptions and they crammed it down our throat a bit for a while, but nobody gave up.”

Any football team would rather be lucky than good, even if it’s good anyway, and Texas State also needed a little bit of luck Saturday night. Angelo State kicker Ryan Smith missed all three of his field goal attempts, none longer than 36 yards.

The Bobcats also came through Saturday night not once victimized by the opponent’s deep ball, which was the bane of their existence last season. Angelo State completed one pass for 35 yards and another for 20, but neither pass scored and it was nothing on the order of last season, when Texas State allowed 15 touchdowns of 30 yards or more.

The flip side emerged when Angelo State completed four passes of ten or more yards on third or fourth down. The Bobcats knew going in that they’d take that trade, and they’ll take it all year.

“We’re told not to give up the deep ball,” Texas State cornerback Will Thompson said. “We try to keep everything in front of us. You don’t like it when they curl in front of you and catch the ball, but if you break on that they might hit the deep ball.”

Said Wright, “It’s a completely different secondary package from a year ago. If a team is going to be patient enough to take those dink shots, we don’t want to give up the big play.”

Offensively, Texas State lined up at the start for power football, often with two tight ends, and ran productively around the tackles from its own 28 to the Angelo State seven before George hit Cameron Luke for a seven-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. Having established the run, Texas State tried to diversify with the passing game on its next possession. Thus began a long period of offensive inertia, because George just wasn’t sharp with his passes.

Indeed, George threw his first two passes way incomplete on that next possession before tossing a pick right to Angelo State’s Jordan Cortez at the ASU 22. In the second quarter, George completed one of five passes, took a sack and threw an interception at the end of the half. At two-for-nine with two interceptions and only 19 yards to show for it, George sat for the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, Angelo State turned its offense over to tailback Daniel Thomas, a small, powerful senior from Taylor who holds most of the ASU football weight lifting records. Thomas carried for only 68 yards in 23 carries, but if he didn’t tear off that 40-yarder that would have put him over 100, he proved so tough to tackle through the middle and established the run so emphatically that Texas State had to pay attention.

Angelo State found its offensive stride late in the second quarter by handing the ball repeatedly to Thomas on a 12-play, 63-yard touchdown drive. At the end of that drive, with 20 seconds remaining in the half and Angelo State holding no timeouts, ASU quarterback Josh Neiswander connected with Charles Freeman for seven yards to the one and Wright mysteriously stopped the clock. Turns out, Thompson said, that Texas State had an extra man on the field (it was him), so the referees would have stopped the clock, anyway, while walking off a crucial half-yard.

Coming out of the timeout, Neiswander faked play action to Thomas in the middle of the line and threw complete to Drew Peterson in the back of the end zone, bringing Angelo State to a 7-7 halftime tie.

With Thomas planted firmly in the minds of Texas State defenders, Angelo State come out after the second-half kickoff with its passing attack. On the first scrimmage play of the second half, Neiswander threw 35 yards to Sam Tindol, advancing to the Texas State 27. Three plays later, on fourth and ten, Neiswander threw 20 yards to Peterson, advancing to the Texas State seven. Two plays after that, Neiswander threw a four-yard touchdown to Nate Bayless, giving Angelo State a 14-7 lead.

Now working from behind, Wright put the call out to workmanlike quarterback Clint Toon, who moved the ball respectably and didn’t kill the team with misplays behind center. He also took advantage of good field position, which the Bobcats gratefully accepted when a 23-yard punt started them at the Angelo State 47 late in the third quarter.

After covering most of the remaining yardage with their bread-and-butter running attack of Karrington Bush and Stan Zwinggi, the Bobcats tied the game, 14-14, when Toon hit freshman Michak Rivas with a nine-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Then, the scramble truly began.

Angelo State took over at its own 44 after Garrett Tidwell’s 34-yard kick return, mixed runs and passes all the way to the Texas State 15 and set up a field goal. But Smith missed his 36-yard attempt.

Texas State took the touchback at its own 20 and moved to its own 36 before Toon’s sideline pass on third-and-nine bounced off an ASU defender, then off Zwinggi before D.J. Clough intercepted at the 31 and returned 12 yards to the 19. Aided by a holding penalty, the Texas State defense again flashed its backbone and forced Smith to try a 31-yard field goal, which also missed.

The Bobcats assumed possession at their own 20 and tore down field mostly on two big pass plays. First, Toon connected with Daren Dillard for 39 yards to the ASU 29.

“Coach said we were going to take a shot at some time in the game,” Dillard said.

That wasn’t the only shot. Three plays later, Toon threw deep to Luke, who made a manful catch at the three while taking a brutal hit from ASU’s Rickey McKinley. Blake Burton finished the job with a one-yard touchdown run, giving Texas State a 21-14 lead with 1:48 left.  

All hope ended for Angelo State when Bobcats linebacker Marcus Clark hurried Neiswander on a pass and the quarterback ended up leaving the field on a cart. Later, Thomas fumbled, though he recovered. Angelo State couldn’t move the ball, and the game was over.

The stat sheet totaling up the night’s performances is not kind to the Bobcats. Angelo State actually outgained them, 306 yards to 288. But Texas State took the win in front of 13,952, their 11th largest crowd ever and their largest since Sept. 2, 2006. The differences in scoring and yardage are quantifiable and very small. But the difference between a win and a loss can’t be measured.

“Sure, we’d like to have had it 45-0,” Wright said. “But the kids showed a lot of character. I don’t like playing these (Division II) guys or guys like them. They have nothing to lose and we have nothing to gain. I’d rather play SMU.”

As it happens, Texas State plays at Southern Methodist next Saturday. So, Wright has the game he wants, though he might not get the result. The question is whether the Bobcats can at least scare SMU the way they were scared by Angelo State.

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