West Texas A&M made clutch plays down the stretch, and earned a career performance from running back Duke Carter IV to stun No. 14 Central Washington 28-26 on Saturday night in Ellensburg, Wash.
The WT victory spoiled the Wildcats first game in their newly renovated Tomlinson Stadium. CWU was playing its first game in school history under brand new lights, new stands and new field turf in front of a capacity crowd of 5,209 disappointed fans.
The Buffs even put a damper on a fireworks show not seen by many CWU fans after the game, due to leaving because of the loss.
WT gets its first road win against a ranked team under second-year coach Hunter Hughes, and the first win against a ranked team since a come-from-behind, 24-21, upset of No. 7 Colorado State-Pueblo at home on Sept. 9, of last season.
"It's a great win for our program," Hughes said. "I thought our guys came out a little different than they had in previous games. They were excited to be here, excited to be in this atmosphere, excited about playing in front of this crowd. We came to play."
WT is 3-2 overall while CWU falls to a 3-2 mark.
Redshirt Justin Houghtaling made his first start of the year, and did a good job of managing the game. His numbers aren't eye opening, 11-of-18 for 84 yards. But, Houghtaling didn't throw an interception and managed the offense.
Carter and the WT offensive line was the story. After a scoreless first quarter, Carter busted loose for a 79 yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. The Buffs farthest play from scrimage all season, giving WT a 6-0 lead.
Carter again found pay dirt on a 10-yard TD toss from Houghtaling with 8:43 left in the second, that gave the Buffs a lead they'd never relinquish.
Carter time and time again was called upon. Behind a physical WT offensive line, the Buffs wore down the Wildcats defense front, as Carter went for a career-high 259 yards on 35 carries.
Stratford graduate and WT redshirt freshman left tackle Parker Hanna was a part of Carter's huge night. Hanna was sick most of the day but only missed one series in the contest.
"When we do the fundamentals right, and the little things right, we're a great offensive line," Hanna said. "We have athleticism and can beat guys off the edge. Duke ran guys over, and it was a combination. He was great."
Hanna and Buffs were disciplined, making only six penalties for 35 yards.
The defense knew they'd be tested against one of the nation's best offenses. CWU came into Saturday, averaging 43.0 points through the first four ball games.
WT did allow over 500 yards, however, held the Wildcats to seven points at half. One of the touchdowns allowed in the second half came on a blocked punt. By the end of the night, the WT defense limited CWU well below its average and did what they do best, by forcing turnovers.
WT grabbed a fumble during the game, true freshman Tobias Harris snagged his team-leading fifth pick of the year to kill a CWU drive in the the WT endzone midway through the fourth quarter, then came the special teams.
Watching a 22-7 third quarter lead slip to a 22-19 edge with 13:30 to play in the fourth quarter, Donevin Manuel blocked a Wildcat punt clean, allowing Aytron Payne to scoop and score from 15 yards out, giving WT a huge 28-19 advantage.
"This was a big game for our team," said WT safety James Clark, who had nine tackles and forced a fumble. "Our offense controlled the line of scrimmage, our defense came in and played physical. It was an all together team win. It took a great playing and coaching effort."
The only mistake by the Buffs was the kicking game. WT had a kick blocked and returned for a score, and missed three extra-points.
WT will jump back into Lone Star Conference play when they play UT Permian Basin for Homecoming next Saturday at 6 p.m.
WT 28, CWU 26
West Texas A&M 0 16 6 6 — 28
Central Washington 0 7 12 7 — 26
WT—Duke Carter IV 79 run (Michael Shipley kick blocked), 12:27
CWU—Michael Roots 56 pass from Reilly Hennessey (Colin Manner kick), 10:13
WT—Carter 10 pass from Justin Houghtaling (Shipley kick), 8:43
WT—Shipley 34 FG, 0:00
WT—Jordan Johnson 5 pass from Houghtaling (Shipley kick blocked), 10:29
CWU—Tony Archie 11 pass from Hennessey (Manner kick), 8:30
CWU—Manners 22 FG, 0:32
WT—Ayrton Payne 15 punt block (Shipley kick failed), 13:13
CWU—Quinton Lewis 21 pass from Hennessey (Manner kick), 1:05
First Downs 16 26
Rush Yards 268 126
Pass Yards 84 436
Total Yards 352 562
C-A-I 11-18-0 31-49-1
Punts-Avg. 6-37.3 4-40.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 6-35 10-110
RUSHING—WT: Duke Carter IV 35-259, Justin Houghtaling 3-13, Marshawn Brown 2-3. CWU—Michael Roots 11-56, Cedric Cooper 8-39, Reilly Hennessey 10-31.
PASSING—WT: Houghtaling 11-18-0-84. CWU—Hennessey 31-49-1-436.
RECEIVING—WT: Jordan Johnson 3-36, Brandon Blair 1-20, Carter 2-12, Jamaal Hamilton 3-8, Semaj Mitchell 1-8, Markel Steward 1-0. CWU—Tony Archie 6-106, Cedric Cooper 8-80, Quinton Lewis 5-70, Roots 1-56, Christian Stafford 4-50, Tyson Rainwater 2-18.
Lone Star Conference Standings
Texas A&M-Commerce 2-0;4-1
West Texas A&M 1-1 3-2
Eastern New Mexico;1-2;1-4
UT Permian Basin;1-2;1-4
Western New Mexico;0-2;0-4
West Texas A&M 28, Central Washington 26
UT Permian Basin 21, Western New Mexico 20
Tarleton 54, Angelo State 33
Texas A&M-Commerce 68, Lock Haven 6
Texas A&M-Kingsville 33, New Mexico Highlands 30
MSU Texas 31, Eastern New Mexico 23