The last thing West Texas A&M head coach Hunter Hughes wants to see from his team in front a big Homecoming crowd one final time at Kimbrough Stadium, is a deja vu type performance like he witnessed last year after his Buffs earned a huge win.
During his first season in 2017, the Buffs rallied from an 18-point deficit to stun Hughes' former team, then No. 7-ranked Colorado State-Pueblo, 24-21, on Happy State Bank Field at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium. The following week, they were plain flat, having to depend on their defense to help them survive their Lone Star Conference opener against UT Permian Basin in a 17-6 victory.
A little over a year later, here the Buffs are again. UTPB is coming to Canyon for an LSC matchup at 6 p.m. tonight, a week after WT goes on the road and gets a huge win, knocking off No. 14-ranked Central Washington, 28-26.
The victory against the Wildcats put the Buffs at 3-2 overall, and on the national radar. The Buffs received votes in the latest American Football Coaches Association Division II Top 25 poll on Monday.
While it's nice to see the respect, Hughes couldn't care less. His sole focus is on his team to keep improving, and bring the same intensity that his young roster brought against CWU.
"I've challenged the guys to bring the energy they brought last week," Hughes said. "Bring that focus they showed us they can play with. Our staff has told our players all week, that what we did against Central Washington doesn't matter. We have to be ready for UTPB.
"They are a lot better team than they've been in the past. Our players don't need to listen to what they hear outside of our locker room. We're going to be tested and challenged."
With a young team, Hughes knows mistakes are going to happen. He says it's about getting his team mentally prepared as much as getting ready on the field.
The Buffs (1-1 in the LSC) did a good job of limiting mistakes against CWU. WT made only six penalties for 35 yards, and didn't turn the ball over.
They did however make special teams mistakes, failing to make three extra points.
The Falcons (1-4, 1-2) are flying high after a thrilling come-from-behind 21-20 home win against Western New Mexico last week. It was the first win of the year for UTPB, and its first conference win.
UTPB has played a freshman quarterback, Taylor Null, the past three games. Null, a former high school teammate of WT quarterback of Justin Houghtaling at Artesia N.M., has improved weekly. On the year, Null has 703 passing yards and five touchdowns, but has thrown four interceptions.
Defensively, the Falcons whipped the Buffs up front last season. WT's line is improved, but UTPB does return one of the best players in the league in linebacker Chris Hoad. Hoad, the reigning LSC Defensive Player of the Week, has a team-high 56 tackles this season.
"Null is getting better, and more confident," Hughes said. "He led them down the field on a game-winning drive. Their offensive line has worked together since the program started. They have a good defensive line, and we'll have trouble moving them.
"They have overall good skill guys. They all can beat you. They have hard-nosed runner that's tough. They are very blue collar and workmanlike."
What to watch for
Final Homecoming at Kimbrough: This is the Buffs final Homecoming game on Happy State Bank Field at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium before they move into their new on campus stadium next fall.
WT is 33-21-2 all-time in Homecoming games at Kimbrough Stadium and 44-28-2 overall in Homecoming games. The first Homecoming win for the Buffs came when they defeated New Mexico Military Institute 7-0 in 1931.
Tobias Harris: WT true freshman Tobias Harris has been a do it all player for the Buffs through five games. His combined 462 kick return yards are the most in the conference and eighth in the nation. His 13.5 yard average on punt returns also ranks in the Top 25 nationally.
On the defensive side of the ball, Harris leads the LSC with five interceptions.
LSC showdown: While most fans in attendance will be focused on WT-UTPB, some will be glued to their phones like the rest of the conference to keep an eye on the huge LSC showdown in Wichita Falls. The No. 9-ranked and defending Division II national champion Texas A&M-Commerce Lions (4-1, 2-0) visit No. 4-ranked MSU Texas (5-0, 3-0) at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
The Mustangs have had the better of this series of late, winning four of the last five games, including a 47-42 win last year that helped them seal the LSC championship.
The game can be seen on ESPN3.
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
Angelo State at Western New Mexico, 2 p.m.
UT Permian Basin at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m.
Eastern New Mexico at Tarleton, 7 p.m.
Texas A&M-Commerce at Midwestern State, 7 p.m.
Western Oregon at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 7 p.m.