By Alyssa Fox
GOODWELL–The Panhandle State University Aggies host their final home game of the season this week as they take on the Texas College Steers in a Sooner Athletic Conference match-up on Saturday.
Coming off a pivotal win against Southwestern Assemblies of God University last weekend, Head Coach Russell Gaskamp reflected benevolently yet simply, “I was very proud of my team.” Gaskamp noted the tough path of adversity his athletes have fought their way through this year, and their acceptance of a ‘next-man-up’ mentality while wading through a sea of injuries and untested newcomers.
Gaskamp extoled his players on both sides of the ball, commenting that the Dark Side Defense played extremely well, holding a renowned Lion offensive line to just beyond 300 total yards. In the face of injury, the Aggie defense has just three remaining of 11 starters that began the season on the field, leaving the defensive staff working hard, but overcoming the challenge. Defensive backs sophomore Deadryelle Fites, junior transfer Diamante Pounds, and senior linebacker Jawan Purifoy have maintained the weight of the defense on and off the field. “Jawan has been a steady rock for us this year,” said Gaskamp, “He has been player of the game several times and has held us together.”
He also credits the Aggie O-Line, amassing 350 rushing yards against SAGU and backing up each hard-played game with equal effort in every practice. “Our offensive line has showed great leadership and hard work, especially my two seniors, Sam Lemin and Dominique Thomas, who have stepped up to being great leaders to a group of inexperienced guys. They have both played on a high level this year,” said Gaskamp. He also expressed praise of the offensive backfield, remarking on their acceptance of their roles and the aptitude of each athlete to bring something different to the table. “I am also very proud of my receivers,” continued Gaskamp, “They knew our run game would be strong and they played unselfishly for the betterment of the team.”
Freshman quarterback Martez Vrana continues to impress, playing his best game yet, according to the coaching staff. He has proven his strength and resilience time and again and persists improvement with each contest. Gaskamp lauded of the freshman, “Anytime we needed a play he made it with his feet and he took a couple tough hits doing it, but he always protected the ball.”
The entire Aggie Crew, he noted, has finally hit the stride of accepting a winning culture and reached the maturation of playing for the program as a whole.
Though the reflection on the recent victory is motivating, the focus remains on Texas College. The Aggies will take on the Steers at home this weekend and, while their season hopes are high, their only goal is to be 1-0 this week. Texas College remains a dangerous opponent for the Aggies, as both teams are equally paralleled on multiple facets. “They could create match-up issues for us,” said Gaskamp. However, the team confidence levels are high and the team hopes to ride the self-assurance to another big weekend win.
Amidst the many festivities accompanying this exciting game day, the Aggie seniors will be honored on the field at halftime in celebration of Senior Day. “My favorite thing as a coach is seeing guys come in as young men and through perseverance and resiliency, finish up their eligibility as adults,” dotes Gaskamp. He continued, “I have personally recruited a few of these guys and, while this senior group is smaller in number, they have been the best in leadership.”
Two of the 2018 captains are seniors Purifoy and quarterback Brandon Ramon, who encompass a ‘program first’ mindset. Also among the group are Lemin and early graduate Sequoia Smith, both members of Chi Alpha Sigma and honor roll, who have worked hard during their years at OPSU not only on the field but in the classroom. “Every player graduating has earned their way through school, and its sometimes not the easiest path, and that says a lot about their character,” said Gaskamp.
In this highly anticipated match-up sponsored by Anchor D Bank, the Aggies will take on the Texas College Steers Saturday at 2 p.m. in Anchor D Stadium. The Annual Chili Cook-Off will precede the game and take place in the Tailgate Zone, which will open at 11 a.m., complete with a live concert by the Jackson Tillman Band. Senior recognition announcements will take place at halftime and the Panhandle State PBL business club will host a Purp-Out for the March of Dimes throughout the day. Free streaming video and live stats will be available on opsuaggies.com for all those wishing to keep up at home.