NCAA First Round
No. 5 HSU (9-1) vs. No. 8 Linfield (8-1)
2 p.m. CST | Nov. 18, 2017 | Maxwell Field | McMinnville, Ore.
An HSU Win Would
► be the Cowboys first NCAA playoff win since 2000 when they beat
Trinity 33-30 in the NCAA quarterfinals. HSU has lost its last seven
►snap a three-game losing streak to the Linfield.
►be the Cowboys first 10-win season since 2004.
►be the first playoff road win in the Cowboys' NCAA Division III history.
Last Time Out
The Cowboys pitched its second shutout of the season and beat crosstown rival McMurry, 28-0. Marc Reed ran for 141 yards in the contest and the defense forced a pair of turnovers, including an interception in the end zone to preserve the shutout.
The winner of Saturday's game will face the winner of the game between Mary Hardin-Baylor and Chapman. The loser of the game will see its season end.
In The Polls
HSU is ranked fifth in this week's D3football.com poll and sixth in the American Football Coaches Association poll. They have held both of those positions for the last five weeks. Linfield is No. 8 in both polls.
On the Air
You can listen to Cowboy football on 100.7 in Abilene and watch on the internet at www.hsuathletics.com. You can also listen on your mobile phone using the HSU Athletics app. Al Pickett is in his 13th season in the Cowboys' play-by-play chair and 14th overall on the broadcast team. Former Cowboy quarterback Travis Jones will handle the color commentary duties for home games and director of athletic communications Chad Grubbs will handle the color analysis for the road games.
HSU In The NCAA Division III Playoffs
Nov. 20, 1999 HSU 28, Washington (Mo.) 21
Nov. 27, 1999 HSU 51, Washington & Jefferson 3
Dec. 4, 1999 Trinity 40, HSU 33
Nov. 25, 2000 HSU 32, Western Maryland 10
Dec. 2, 2000 HSU 33, Trinity 30
Dec. 9, 2000 St. John's 38, HSU 14
Nov. 17, 2001 Wittenberg 38, HSU 35, ot
Nov. 20, 2004 Mary Hardin-Baylor 42, HSU 28
Nov. 19, 2006 Mary Hardin-Baylor 33, HSU 21
Nov. 22, 2008 Mary Hardin-Baylor 38, HSU 35
Nov. 21, 2015 Mary Hardin-Baylor 37, HSU 19
Nov. 19, 2016 Linfield 24, Hardin-Simmons 10
Historically Good Defense
The Cowboy defense limited its eighth opponent of the season to one or fewer offensive touchdowns in a game with the shutout. You have to go all the way back to 1947 the last time that has happened for Cowboy football. That year the Cowboys had four shutouts and eight games with no one scoring more than a touchdown. The year before that when the Cowboys went 11-0 they did not allow a team to score more than eight points in a game. HSU has a pair of shutouts on the year and it is the first time since 1995 that the Cowboys have had two shutouts in a season. The Cowboys have allowed just 16 touchdowns which is five fewer than the previous record.
Defensive Line By Committee
The Cowboys have a strong defensive line and it is done a lot by committee. Jim LaFond leads the team with 7.5 sacks and Donavon Hailey has four. They are both senior starters at end. Anthony Franklin, George Neef and Brandon Kesselring also are on the outside. On the inside Tam, Cortez, Cody Taylor, Hunter Creasey, Cole Northcutt and Jonathan Sneed all play consistently. All 10 defensive lineman on the playoff roster have been in on sacks this season. HSU and Linfield both have 32 sacks on the season.
Patrolling The Middle
Senior Josh White has led the defense in tackles all season long and he has 89 stops on the year. He is gunning for a second-straight 100-tackle season. Transfer Eriq Mitchell has also played some in the middle for the Cowboys and he has 31 tackles and had an interception last week against McMurry.
Senior Matthew Hawkins has been a key cog in the Cowboy defense for the last four years. He plays the strong safety position in the Cowboys' scheme which is a combo linebacker and safety. He leads the team with 16 drive-stopping plays on third or fourth down. He has 72 tackles and nine tackles for loss on the year. He will be making his 41st career start on Saturday.
Miller Gets His Shot
Junior Chris Miller is in his first season as a starter for the Cowboys at linebacker. He has 50 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, has a fumble recovery and an interception. Miller missed a season and has been bothered by hamstring issues his entire career but now healthy he has made a lot of big plays for the Cowboys.
Just Knock It Down
Senior cornerback Reggie Davis has 16 pass break ups on the year. He is now sixth on the all-time career charts. He has started 21 games in his career at corner for the Cowboys. Junior Tim Ismail has been solid at the other corner for the Cowboys. He made the move to corner in the spring and has started all 10 games. Zac Richardson also sees snaps in the secondary.
The Cowboys start a pair of big-hitting safeties in Dedrick Strambler (6-3) and Blake Johnston (6-4). Strambler has 34 tackles on the year and has seven pass breakups and a team-best four interceptions. Johnston has 37 tackles and has forced a fumble and recovered another.
Pound The Rock
The Cowboys are averaging 256.9 yards per game and the 2,569 rushing yards are the second-most all-time for the Cowboys and HSU needs 182 yards on the ground to break the 2004 school record. HSU is averaging a school-record 6.0 yards per carry. HSU has run the ball in a variety of ways with a long list of players getting into the running game. Jaquan Hemphill leads the way with 999 yards on the year, but he has been nursing an injury for the last six weeks and it has become more of a committee of running backs. Xavier Jones has 499 yards rushing and freshman quarterback Marc Reed has 477 yards. Zai Zai Smith and Kavan Johnson are also options for the Cowboys.
Freshman Landry Turner has been solid under center in his first season as a starter. He missed four games earlier in the year for violating university policy but hs has completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 1,596 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He averages 266 passing yards per game. Ty Hooper filled in well for the four games and he has seven touchdowns on the year. Marc Reed and Peyton Killam have run the Cowboys' running package throughout the season.
Wide Out Weapons
HSU went into the season with a pair of All-Americans in Alex Bell and Reese Childress expected to be big time playmakers for the Cowboys. As all teams have to deal with, injuries have changed the plans. Bell went down early in the year against Howard Payne and came back for a few plays against Mary Hardin-Baylor before missing the rest of the year. Childress was injured in the Texas Lutheran game on the first drive and did not come back as a receiver. He has played through the injury since then. It has allowed other players to expand their role. Devonte' Walker has become a big-play receiver on the outside and he is second on the team with 43 catches for a team-best 697 yards and five touchdowns. Matt Sandoval stepped into a starting slot and had 33 catches for 379 yards. Colton Kent also plays a lot in the four-wide package. Childress has still put up solid numbers with 44 catches for 622 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 67 catches for 1,230 yards and 11 TDs last year.
Big Bodies Up Front
The Cowboys have a veteran offensive line that for the most part has been intact all season long. Patrick Riley, Riley Owens, Vic Rodriguez, Ty Crain and Jonathan Castaneda have done a good job of paving the way for the punishing running game and has helped bring along four new quarterbacks this season, all who were seeing their first significant college snaps.
HSU uses a heavy tight end package and will often have two tight ends in the game. Woody Watson and Hayden Day see the most snaps but Justin Wilson and Jake Seaman also are part of the travel squad and will be used when necessary. Watson has a pair of receiving touchdowns late in the season.
The Cowboys have used a number of kickers this season but have settled on freshman Luis Diaz. He has been the kickoff specialist all year and is 36-of-39 on PATs and 2-of-3 on field goals. Reese Childress leads the conference in punting at 40.1 yards per game. The return game has been by committee throughout the season. Childress has returned kicks and punts and Breon Simmons, Bryson Hammonds and Devonte' Walker have also seen return duties after All-American kick returner Alex Bell went down.
A nearly annual playoff combatant, Linfield qualified for the playoffs (both NCAA and NAIA) for the 28th time in program history and 14th time in the last 18 seasons. Linfield won the Northwest Conference. Just like the Cowboys, Linfield's only loss was a 24-3 loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor in McMinnville. They have more similarities to the Cowboys in the fact they rely on a stout defense that has allowed just 10.6 points per game. They are also starting a freshman quarterback in Wyatt Smith, who is coach Joseph Smith's son.
Linfield leads the all-time series with the Cowboys 5-2, including a 24-10 win last season in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. Linfield has won three straight games and has won all three meetings in McMinnville.