History was not on the side of the Midwestern State Mustangs when they entered Turpin Stadium last Saturday night to face FCS Northwestern State. The Mustangs were 0-5 in program history against FCS teams.
However, a lot has changed since the last time the Mustangs played an FCS opponent. The current players for MSU Texas were barely alive when the Mustangs last played FCS opponent Sam Houston State to open the 2003 season. In fact, when MSU Texas played the Bearkats, they were known as the Indians.
The current group of Mustangs was undeterred as they went on the road and dominated the first half on their way to an impressive 33-7 win over the Demons and earning the honor of being this week’s Small College Team of the Week.
The Mustangs defense was most impressive last Saturday night as they held the Demons to 243 total yards one week after Northwestern State had put up 483 total yards against FCS UT Martin.
“I have to hand it to my coaches and hand it to my players. They played hard and they played well, and they executed the game plan,” said MSU Texas defensive coordinator Rich Renner. “I did nothing other than put them in the best position possible for them to be successful and I’m thankful our kids played hard, made the tackles and made the play when they needed.”
Mustangs head coach Bill Maskill was impressed with his defense as his team tries to find their identity early in the season.
“Defensively, we knew that we were going to run to the ball, didn’t miss many tackles and we were able to play a lot of guys,” said Maskill. “We really didn’t know with the offense or defense where we were until we lined up to play (Northwestern State) and I’m not sure we still know where we are as a team.”
The MSU Texas defense was impressive against the run as they only allowed 58 rushing yards to the Demons. The performance is even more impressive as the Mustangs have a young defensive line with one junior (Nathaniel Nicolas), two sophomores (Melik Owens and A’Quan Randolph) and one redshirt freshman (Michael McDonald) starting along the line.
Owens earned Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his performance. He registered seven tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
“Coach (Randy) Wilkins and coach (Mat) Turner do a great job with the front seven and the defensive line. We had a redshirt freshman that had never played a down that started and we had a defensive end that was starting his first game as a sophomore,” said Renner. “They’ve done a great job of working hard and realizing that they’re a strength of our defense.”
Northwestern State has thrived the past two seasons on their big play ability. The Demons longest play of the game was a 19-yard run with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
“The big thing about the defense is that we didn’t give up any long passing plays,” said Maskill.
Quarterback Zach Purcell was also outstanding in his first start for MSU Texas as he completed 26-of-40 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns while also scoring a rushing touchdown.
“He spread the ball out to his receivers, and it made it difficult for (Northwestern State) to focus in on one receiver,” said Maskill.
“I was just letting the game come to me naturally. Our guys did a great job of getting open and catching the football,” said Purcell.
The junior signal-caller was also quick to give credit to the defense.
“Our defense stepped up and held a good team to only seven points,” said Purcell. “It’s great to know that the defense has our back when we’re unable to put points on the board.”
While Maskill understands the magnitude of earning the program’s first win over an FCS opponent, his focus is on the Mustangs continuing to improve this season.
“That (win) in itself means a lot to the program but it’ll be determined at the end of the season how much it really means,” said Maskill. “I don’t want to take anything away from the win but it’s just one. It’s one win and one step. We’re not where we want to be yet.”