AIR RAID ALERT: Winona State to host Division II’s top-ranked passing attack in playoff game
One of Division II college football’s best offenses, led by one of its best quarterbacks, is coming to town to take on the Winona State Warriors in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
Texas A&M-Commerce and Division II college football’s top passing attack will face off with WSU and the nation’s most opportunistic defense at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.
Lions quarterback Luis Perez leads an offense that is No. 1 in the nation with 365 passing yards per game and 14th in points per game, averaging 40 per contest. The 6-foot-3 signal caller from Chula Vista, Calif., has thrown for 3,429 yards and 36 touchdowns with six interceptions and a 72-percent completion rate.
“He’s got a great release, it’s very quick,” Winona State coach Tom Sawyer said. “He reads it and throws it. He is a system guy as well and they’ve got great athletes, so he’ll throw it up and their guys will go get it. He’s aggressive and I like the way he plays. He’s a special talent, one of Division II’s best.”
Perez spreads the ball around to a number of targets as six players have more than 30 catches and five have more than 400 yards. The team’s leading receiver is 6-foot, 185-pound senior Buck Wilson who has 46 catches for 684 yards and nine touchdowns. Six-foot-3 receivers Darrion Landry and D’Arthur Cowan each have 547 yards. Landry has nine scores, while Cowan has eight.
That high-powered passing attack helps Commerce average 459.7 total yards per game. They don’t run the ball much, gaining only 93.9 rushing yards per game, good for 156th nationally.
“We’ve played against big offenses before,” Sawyer said. “We beat Mankato on the road two years ago when they were number one. We’ve played in a lot of big games. We’ve played against the best defenses, we’ve played against the best offenses. We’ve played against some of the best quarterbacks that the nation provided through the years. This young man from Commerce is very very good. We respect that. What we’ve gotta do is be disciplined and show them lots of different pictures and be aggressive.”
WSU’s aggressiveness throughout the season have led it to a nation-leading 24 interceptions and second-ranked 36 total turnovers. Senior defensive back Andrew Spencer earned Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors this season while intercepting seven passes and taking two of them back for scores. Linebacker Nick Pridgeon has four interceptions, while four more players have two.
The Lions defense is no slouch either, ranking 18th in total defense and 13th in points allowed. They average 287.4 total yards and 14.9 points against per game. Five-foot-11, 280-pound defensive tackle Kieston Carter has 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season, and 6-5, 255-pound Oklahoma transfer defensive end Michael Onuoha has six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
“They’re very good up front,” Sawyer said. “They’re big and strong and they’ve got some Division I transfers that are very good players. We’ve just got to be disciplined and make sure we’re on assignment.”
Saturday is the third time Winona State has hosted a playoff game and the first time since 2004. It is the first time since 2007 that the Warriors have made the playoffs.
“We just need to have as many people here as we can get,” Sawyer said. “I hope this place is packed. It’s been 13 years since we’ve had a home game in the playoffs, it’s a big deal. Twenty eight out of 160 schools get into the tournament and to have one here against a team like that — the eighth-ranked team in the country — it’s a great show and I hope people come out and see it.”