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

November 16th, 2008
One more win puts Bobcats in NCAA football playoffs

Editor at Large

Strange goings on.

The Texas State Bobcats, scheduled for a home football game Saturday afternoon, stayed in a San Marcos hotel Friday night.

The next afternoon, the Texas State defense turned up its best performance in years, allowing only 238 yards. So fiercely did the Bobcats shut down the Nicholls State option that the Colonels ended with more yards passing (120) than rushing (118).

When the game ended, Bobcats players sat down on the middle of their own field and scooted themselves across, duplicating rowing motions with the aid of a real paddle.

By Saturday evening, the Bobcats suddenly were the team to beat for the Southland Conference championship and the automatic NCAA playoff berth that goes with it.

The Bobcats produced their most solid dominance of the season in a 34-10 win against Nicholls State, staking their rightful place to contend for the league title with one week left in the season. Later Saturday, McNeese State beat Northwestern State, 24-17, putting Texas State in the driver’s seat.

Texas State (7-4 overall, 4-2 SLC) actually is tied on top of the league with McNeese State (7-3, 4-2). However, the Bobcats hold the tiebreaker with one week left by virtue of their 45-42 win at McNeese State on Oct. 11. If the Bobcats win next Saturday at Sam Houston State (2 p.m.), they will win the prizes.

The victory assured Texas State of only its fifth winning season in 22 years of Division I football. More important, it further legitimized the very solid emergence of this year’s team, even if it has been largely unobserved by the public.

On Sept. 27, the Bobcats laid an egg in a 34-20 loss to Southern Utah, to the chagrin of 12,301 in attendance at Bobcat Stadium. The Bobcats haven’t drawn that well since, but they have played a lot better.

Since that night, the Bobcats have played seven games, winning five and giving a representative effort in every case. A week after the Southern Utah game, the Bobcats played Texas Southern and Wright said he threw up before kickoff because he didn’t know what kind of effort to expect. But after these last seven weeks, that has changed.

“I don’t throw up before the games anymore,” Wright said. “I think you would have to not have a pulse to not play at this point of the season and where these young men have gotten us to. It’s a credit to them for hanging in there during that rough time, coming out to practice everyday and wanting to get better. We’re one game away from being able to do something pretty special around here.”

The Bobcats all but put Nicholls State away with a 24-point outburst in the second quarter, during which they scored three of their four touchdowns. Cameron Luke, Stan Zwinggi and John Gilley, each a senior playing his last game at Bobcat Stadium, each reached the end zone.

Texas State moved the ball just about however it wanted, rushing for 254 yards and passing for 153 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per rush and 9.6 yards per pass. No one posted especially gaudy statistics, as they spread the ball around on Senior Day. Zwinggi led all rushers with 72 yards, while quarterback Bradley George completed 10 of 14 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

The day really belonged to the defense, which held Nicholls State to 87 yards in 30 rushes during the during the first half and bottled up the Colonels so completely that they had to throw.

“I think that’s a good thing for the opposing team if they’re throwing more than they’re running,” Wright said. “I know that’s not what they want to do.”

Defensive end Travis Houston completed an especially strong day, totaling 12 tackles (three unassisted), three tackles for losses adding up to seven yards, two fumble recoveries and a sack.

In some respects, the Texas State performance resembled its work on the road this year, during which the Bobcats won four times away from their home stadium for the first time since going Division I. Among those wins was the huge victory at McNeese State, lopsided wins at Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana, and their first non-conference road win since 2001.

Towards replicating the conditions of road play, which include privacy from outside distractions in the several hours leading up to a game, Wright put the team in a local hotel Friday night.

The reward a day later was victory in the “Battle for the Paddle,” so called because the canoe paddle at stake commemorates the 1998 flood in San Marcos, which postponed that year’s game between the Bobcats and Nicholls State. Before Saturday, the Bobcats had gone three years without winning the paddle.

As the game ended, Texas State players stormed the Nicholls sideline to reclaim the paddle, then sat tight together in the middle of the field as they replicated rowing.

“I don’t know how it looked, but it sure felt good,” one player said.

It looked fine, actually. But the standings looked a lot better.

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