UIW, UMHB advance in NCAA playoffs while turnovers doom Angelo State

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All three NCAA playoff games involving Texas sub-FBS teams on Saturday began with the same result on the offense’s opening drive - a turnover. 

UIW finished with four turnovers and a minus-two turnover margin but still found a way to defeat Furman 41-38. The Cardinals will face questions next week after four turnovers and 16 penalties, but they answered plenty of other questions on Saturday.

Colorado School of Mines turned two turnovers into touchdowns in a 42-24 win at Angelo State. The Rams no doubt have a sour taste after this loss, but this team became a national title contender, something not seen in San Angelo in decades.

Mary Hardin-Baylor did not look like the better team for the first three quarters of its Division III national quarterfinal against Bethel. But the rules force you to play four quarters for a reason, and the Cru dominated the fourth quarter in a 41-28 win.

Here are some impressions from each game.

Emphatic answers. The University of the Incarnate Word football team has dealt with questions throughout the year. How will the high-powered offense fare in the FCS playoffs? Will the defense make the plays necessary to win a playoff game? What is the team's focus with head coach G.J. Kinne leaving at the end of the season for Texas State?

Let’s start by answering the question about the defense. Can this defense win the game with a stop when needed? That answer is yes for the second consecutive year. The reason the answer is yes largely lies in the hands of junior defensive back Elliott Davison. The Tyler Lee product had two interceptions in last year’s win over Stephen F. Austin and made an excellent read for an interception to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter. The UIW defense did not allow 38 points on Saturday. However, the offense did them no favors, which will be discussed next.

The final stats show a Cardinals offense that dominated as expected, rolling to 613 total yards. Unfortunately, the stats are very misleading from this game. The offense was clicking in the first half, but two interceptions led to 14 points and kept Furman in the game at halftime despite UIW scoring 28 points on 438 total yards. A team rarely wins a playoff game with four turnovers and a minus-two turnover margin, but that’s a statement of how good this UIW team can be. Avoiding turnovers and penalties will be a significant talking point next week.

The scoreboard answers the final question. 41-38 UIW. Kinne had his guys ready to play, and do you want to know his secret? He understands and values his relationships with his players. He was open with the players about his job prospects and talked about his team having its best practice after he assured them he was staying throughout the playoff run. The players play hard for Kinne because they love him, and that’s a significant reason for his success now and in the future. 

Don’t tell me this UIW team can’t win the national title this year. I won’t believe you.

Were you doubting? It takes a lot for me to lose confidence in a team’s ability to make a comeback. I’m an eternal optimist. However, I must admit that I was losing hope in Mary Hardin-Baylor’s chances of repeating as national champions when Bethel scored with 14:11 to play in regulation to take a 28-17 lead.

Everything about UMHB felt off. Quarterback Kyle King was missing some throws by wide margins and had one interception that looked like a bad read. There appeared to be some confusion amongst the receivers on some play calls. It wasn’t just the offense. Bethel was moving the ball at will on the Cru defense, using short slant routes to offset the aggressiveness of the Cru. UMHB seemed sluggish at times on the field and needed a spark to keep its season alive.

Enter senior wide receiver, K.J. Miller. King found Miller over the middle, and the speedy wideout took care of the rest, changing directions multiple times on a 65-yard TD on UMHB’s first play from scrimmage after falling behind by 11 on the scoreboard. The defense suddenly became the wall we’ve grown accustomed to, and the offense became the juggernaut. Ultimately, UMHB returns to the national semifinals with a 41-28 victory. 

It didn’t need to be pretty. Style points don’t matter in the playoffs. The Cru have plenty to clean up after this game. But they will play again next week, and that’s all that matters now.

Everything went awry from the start. Angelo State is a team built to dominate you from the game's opening snap with a punishing ground attack and a physical and aggressive defense. The Rams must remain within striking range on the scoreboard because this team isn’t built to score points quickly. The most significant key for ASU in the playoffs was avoiding turnovers.

The Rams couldn’t accomplish that on Saturday. ASU had a fumble on its opening drive that led to a touchdown for Colorado School of Mines and had the Rams chasing the scoreboard from the start. Then, a muffed punt late in the third quarter set the Orediggers up for another touchdown after ASU had pulled within 21-17 earlier in the third quarter. Those 14 points ended up being the difference for the Rams.

This is a tough loss. Angelo State had a solid chance at playing in the national title game in McKinney this year. The Rams will be back. They have plenty of young talent. However, Saturday was the last game for many ASU players who have built this program into a competitor on the national stage. This loss stinks, but it could easily spark another run next year.

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