CANYON — Change is a good thing. At least it was for West Texas A&M on Saturday night. The Buffaloes opened their beautiful new 8,500 seat Buffalo Stadium with a 35-16 win over Azusa Pacific in front of a loud and boisterous over-capacity crowd.
It was the first win in a season opener for WT since 2013 and only their second victory in their last 11 season-opening games. The Buffs also ended a four-game season-opening losing streak to the Cougars with this win.
The atmosphere inside the new stadium was electric and the student section, also known as the Maroon Platoon, was making noise behind the Azusa Pacific bench all night.
“It was a great environment to come out of that tunnel and see all those people and hear them cheer,” said West Texas A&M head coach Hunter Hughes. “We could hear the Maroon Platoon over there, and I know it was giving Azusa Pacific some issues. It’s only going to get better is what I hope.”
Jordan Johnson scored a nine-yard receiving touchdown and added the final score of the night with a one-yard touchdown run. Johnson also gave the fans a lot of credit.
“The fans, I love them because they come really pumped. The Maroon Platoon come live and It excites the players and we do it for them.”
PROVIDING A SPARK
Azusa Pacific had scored 16 unanswered points and held a 16-7 lead with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter. That’s when Tobias Harris set up the Buffs at their own 45-yard line after a nice return.
The return sparked the offense as the Buffs Brandon Blair scored a touchdown from seven yards out two plays later to begin a run of 28 unanswered points for WT.
It was the second big return of the night for Harris as he opened the second half with a return to the Cougars 46-yard line.
“He (Tobias Harris) gets two huge kickoff returns and we don’t capitalize on one of them. He had a (pass) breakup on defense that I thought he could’ve picked,” said Hughes. “He’s a special player but there are ten other guys that open holes for him and they deserve some credit for putting us in those situations as well.”
BIG REGIONAL WIN
Both WT and Azusa Pacific reside in Super Region Four. The Cougars were a controversial entry into the NCAA DII playoffs last season after sharing the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title. The Cougars were picked to win the GNAC in the 2019 preseason poll.
While defeating a regional foe and ending a losing streak to the Cougars was nice, Hughes sees the win as another step towards what he hopes is a successful season.
“We’re 1-0 (and) we won this week so now we’ve got to prepare to go 1-0 next week. We take the game and the season and the steppingstones like going up a ladder,” said Hughes. “This is the first time we haven’t had to miss a step to start the season in the three years I’ve been here.”
HEADING TO LIBERTY
West Texas A&M will travel to Liberty, Mo. next Saturday to face the William Jewell Cardinals at 3 p.m. The Cardinals play in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and could provide another good test for the Buffs.
“I really like traveling because we get to keep those guys to ourselves,” said Hughes. “There are less distractions on the road, so I’m not concerned at all about these guys going and being able to continue building.”