Winston-Salem State is back in familiar territory playing in the NCAA Division II semifinals for the second consecutive year.
If senior receivers Jahuann Butler of Charlotte and Monroe native Jameze Massey have anything to say about it, the Rams will have one more game to play after that.
We want to take the next step, said Butler, who played at Myers Park High. We came close last year, but we dont want to come close now. Were hungry, and we want to win it all.
Winston-Salem State (13-0), ranked second in the nation among Division II teams, will host 16th-ranked West Texas A&M (12-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem.
The winner will play either two-time national champion Valdosta State or Minnesota State-Mankato next week at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala., for the Division II title.
And if the Rams make it to the championship game, it will be in large part because of Butler and Massey, both of whom had 1,000-yard receiving and double-digit touchdown seasons a first for a Winston-Salem State program that has had only one other receiver (Oronde Gadsden, 1,111 yards in 1994) have a 1,000-yard season in its history.
Thats a great accomplishment even (former NFL All-Pro) Yancey Thigpen didnt do that, said Winston-Salem State coach Connell Maynor said.
This season, Butler has 53 catches for a school-record 1,114 yards (a 21.0 yards per catch average) and 12 touchdowns, while Monroe High graduate Massey has 54 receptions for 1,099 yards (20.4 yards per catch average) and a team-high 13 touchdowns.
They, along with fellow senior Jamal Williams a Raleigh native who has 44 catches for 658 yards and 11 touchdowns have made it possible for quarterbacks Kameron Smith and Charlotte native Anthony Carrothers to combine for more than 3,700 passing yards and 52 touchdowns this season, and for the Rams offense to average nearly 43 points per game.
Were all like brothers, really, Massey said. Weve been working on the things we had to do to get the both of us open. Both of us have had great years, and thats because other teams cant double up on us.
That in itself presents some interesting challenges for the Buffs, who advanced to the semifinals by upsetting top-ranked Colorado State-Pueblo 34-13 last week.
Theyre amazing athletes, and you can see why they put a lot of points on the board, West Texas A&M coach Don Carthel said. Theyve got a quarterback that can get them the ball, and theyve got the talent that its hard to cover them and shut them down theyre going to get their catches and their yards every game.
Averaging 20 yards a catch is explosive at any level. Theyre definitely two of the best receivers in Division II football.
However, both Butler and Massey said that all the catches and touchdowns are moot if Winston-Salem State doesnt take the next step.
The Rams were in this position last year, with an undefeated and highly-ranked team playing for the right to advance to the Division II finals. But their plans were cut short by a 21-14 upset loss to Wayne State in the semifinals. The Warriors would lose to Pittsburg State in the title game 35-21.
It was a painful lesson for Winston-Salem States players, but a necessary one, Massey said.
We really learned how to play through adversity, Massey said. Last year, that game was the first time we had any adversity, and we didnt make the plays we needed to make to move on.
We also learned that we needed to focus on what we needed to do now, and the things we need to take care of. Last year, we really overlooked Wayne State, and they came here and really smacked us. Were not going to overlook West Texas A&M.