It's been 32 years since the Angelo State University football team has advanced past the second round of the playoffs, but the Rams have the chance to do that again Saturday afternoon in their own backyard.
ASU (10-2) will take a six-game winning streak into an NCAA Division II second-round playoff against No. 21 Nebraska-Kearney (10-2).
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at LeGrand Stadium at 1st Community Credit Union Field. Radio coverage will be on KWFR 101.9-FM and a live broadcast will be on the LSC Network.
This will be the first-ever showdown between the Rams and Lopers.
This will be the second-straight home playoff game for ASU, which ended a seven-year playoff drought in 2021.
Last week, the Rams got off to a blistering start with a 100-yard kickoff return by Alfred Grear, followed by a 69-yard touchdown run by quarterback Zach Bronkhorst en route to a convincing 48-14 blowout against No. 23 Minnesota-Duluth.
"We were pretty excited about how we played in all phases," ASU head coach Jeff Girsch said. "I think the second half got a little sloppy at times, but when you're up 41-0 at halftime, that's a good issue.
"We'll get them locked in and focused with it. Obviously, this week we're going to have to play a full game. But I'm just excited. They continue to stay focused in all aspects of the game. That's something that we've been preaching for a long time, after the (loss to West Texas A&M on Oct. 9) that we've got to be focused the rest of the way and our guys have bought into it."
The winner of Saturday's game will face either Colorado School of Mines (10-1) or Bemidji State (10-2) in a third-round game next weekend.
If ASU beats Kearney and Bemidji upsets CSM, the Rams will be back at home again next week.
The last time ASU got past the second round was in 1989 when the Rams lost in the national semifinals.
As well as this season has gone, Girsch says the Rams have done a great job of not letting things go to their heads.
"I've been so impressed," the ASU coach said. "People have asked me and I've told them that this team has been kind of different -- their attitude, their focus, their confidence and their energy, and all of that combined has been really good the last five or six weeks.
"I don't think it's a group that's going to be overconfident, but I want them to be confident. I want them to play with confidence and the swagger that they're a good football team and I think they're doing that right now."
Nebraska-Kearney will take a three-game winning streak into Saturday's showdown.
Before taking over as the Lopers' head coach in 2017, Josh Lynn was the head coach at Eastern New Mexico University in the Lone Star Conference with ASU for five years. That means he's very familiar with the Rams.
Lopers redshirt junior quarterback TJ Davis has completed 63.4% of his passes this year for 2,234 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 1,304 yards and 18 TDs.
"I was talking to coach Lynn (earlier in the week) and I said, 'I think you found your Kyle Washington, the former player at Angelo State years back when we were in the playoffs (in 2014)," Girsch said. "He's a really dynamic football player they have on offense.
Davis was the MIAA Offensive Player of the Year and he's the most efficient passer in the country in the D-II ranks.
As explosive as the Lopers are on offense, they're also stout on the other side of the ball.
"They've got big D-linemen and their linebackers fly around," the Rams coach said. "They're a 10-2 team now in the MIAA and the MIAA in my eyes is one of the top conferences in the country in Division II. They're a good football team in all aspects and we have to be prepared for it."
Bronkhorst has thrown for 1,995 yards and 16 TDS in 10 games.
Rams sophomore running back Nate Omayebu surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week and now has 1,113 yards and 10 TDs.
ASU's top receiver is senior Kellen Pachot, who has snagged 47 receptions for 808 yards and five TDs, including his longest one of the season last week from 78 yards out.
Girsch says the team that gets to 21 points first will probably keep its season alive, judging by how ASU's contests have gone this year.
"It'll definitely be a high-energy game," he said. "There's going to be two very good football teams on the field and both of them will be playing for a lot for their programs.
"(Lynn) has been there four years now and he turned a team that basically hadn't won a game in three years into a powerhouse in the MIAA now. He's still tell you they're up and coming as a football team, but they're a very good football team."
Girsch talked about how excited the ASU alums are about this magical 2021 campaign.
"Those kids from 2014 on since I've been around have been laying the foundation for this situation and this time right now, especially the ones from the 2018 and 2019 seasons," the Rams coach said.
"Since I've been the head football coach, those guys have really bought into what our vision is."
ASU lost a coaching legend earlier this fall when former Rams head coach Jim Hess passed away.
Hess was the Rams' head coach when they won their only national title in football in 1978.
"Coach Hess was something special," Girsch said. "He would come up and watch film with me all the way up until probably about a year ago. He was such a great person to talk to and he kept it grounded.
"He would call me and ask questions about this and offer suggestions all the time. When I got the job at the end of the 2018 season, he was one of the first ones who called me about it. There's no doubt it's a special time and all our thoughts and prayers go with the family. I hope we can continue to play well and honor him with what we do on the field."
This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: Angelo State football team eyes deepest playoff run since 1989