Joe Price

LSC – Playoff Week 4 – Texas A&M Commerce Lions Roar to the Semi-Finals

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(Texas A&M Commerce Running Back Carandal Hale)

Who would have thought, entering into the 4th week of the NCAA Division 2 Playoffs that the Texas A&M Commerce Lions would still be playing with a chance to win a National Title. The Lions have faced some difficult challenges over the past 3 weeks, as no team was easy to beat. Simply, they continue to go 1-0 each week until the next week and then again, go 1-0; and so on.

The Texas A&M Commerce Lions are 1 game out from the National Championship Game held in Kansas City, Kansas. If they win this week, they head to their first Title since their time in the NAIA.

On another topic, Texas A&M-Commerce (2017-OL Jared Machorro, QB Luis Perez and DB Yusef Sterling-Lowe) became the first school to have more than two players named to the AFCA Division II Coaches’ All-America Team in one year.

I am a little surprised that QB Perez was on the 2nd team and not the 1st team…

I will be making the 6 hour and 30 minute trip from Borger, Texas all the way down to Commerce, Texas to see this one in person. There are some games that have to be seen in person than on the TV screen. I look forward to seeing all the D2 Football forum posters at this one!!!

Harding (11-3) v. #8 Texas A&M Commerce (12-1): Saturday, December 9TH 2:30PM CST - Commerce, Texas

The 4th week of the NCAA Playoffs are here. 4 teams enter, and 2 teams move on to the National Championship Game.

Commerce has taken on 3 quality NCAA Playoff opponents in Winona, Central Washington and Minnesota State Mankato; who have a combined record of 34-1, while 2 of these teams being undefeated teams in the NCAA Playoffs. The Lions also sit 5-0 at home in Commerce, Texas with their 1-loss coming on the road at Midwestern State. Texas A&M Commerce Head Coach Colby Carthel: “Over these last three weeks we’ve really learned how to overcome adversity, which is something you’ll find in every playoff game. I’m really proud of these guys, as they’ve always found a way to win, no matter what the circumstances. When you go through a three-game road stretch like we just did, against some of the best teams in the country (opponents’ combined record was 34-1), it takes a toll. We’ve lost some great players to injury each of the last three weeks, but somebody always steps up. Our approach has always been “Injuries = Opportunities”, so it’s been fun to see some guys make the most of the opportunities before them.”

Harding comes out of one of the newer conferences in the Great American Conference (GAC) and has also taken on 3 quality NCAA Playoff opponents in Indianapolis, Ashland and Ferris State; who have a combined record of 33-2, while 1 of the teams being undefeated. The Bisons are 8-1 on the road with their 1 road loss being to Southern Arkansas on September 9th (exactly 3 months ago on gameday).

(Harding Running Back Cole Chancey)

Players to Watch:

Harding Bisons
#34 RB Cole Chancey (1,239 rush yards, 14 TDs)
#28 RB Zack Shelley (858 rush yards, 5 TDs)
#5 RB Grant Kimberlin (850 rush yards, 3 TDs)
#1 QB Terrence Dingle (734 rush yards, 18 TDs)
#42 LB Sam Blankenship (123 tackles, 13 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs)
#13 DL Devyn Comer (36 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT)

Texas A&M Commerce Lions
#12 QB Luis Perez (161.91 Rating, 70.30%, 4,390 pass yards, 42 TDs, 10 INTs)
#4 WR Buck Wilson (950 receiving yards, 11 TDs)
#2 WR Marquis Wimberly (708 receiving yards, 5 TDs)
#7 WR D’Arthur Cowan (664 receiving yards, 8 TDs)
#26 RB Carandal Hale (738 rush yards, 4 TDs)
#9 LB Brucks Saathoff (81 tackles, 5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 1 INT)

(Wide Receiver Marquis Wimberly)

Hard Facts about Harding:

Bisons Offense run the heralded Triple-Option (similar to LSC member Eastern New Mexico). The Bisons Defense setup in a 4-2-5 scheme. Currently the Harding stats are at the following:

#2 Rushing Offense – 347.7 yards per game with 51 rush TDs
#2 Time of Possession – 35 minutes avg. T.O.P.
#4 3rd Down Conversion Pct. – 51.4%
#9 Turnovers Gained - 30
#16 Team INTs – 16 INTs (4 Ret for TDs)
#21 Rush Defense – 190.7 yards per game
#17 Fewest Penalties Per Game – 5.14 penalties per game
#25 Defense – 300.9 yards per game

The top rushing team (347.7 ypg) in Division 2 will clash against the top passing team (355.2 ypg) in Division 2 this week, in a game that I was hoping to be played for the National Title. However, the game between the 2 is occurring in the Semifinal Round of the NCAA Playoffs. The Harding defense has looked really sharp over the past 3 weeks, with the Bisons getting 4 sacks last week and 2 turnovers to move on in the playoffs. The Bisons have found interesting ways to win with Indy (held Offense and FG snap to tie game was botched); and kicking a FG as time expired against Ferris last week in a low scoring affair.

Coach Carthel: “Harding is one of the feel-good stories of the year in D2 Football. Head Coach Paul Simmons is a fantastic coach and one awesome human being, but his HC career started off as bad as you could’ve scripted. After the 0-3 start (and losing to Southern Nazarene at home), he got that Harding team to dig in together and they have gone on an amazing run, all the way to the National Semifinal. They’ve done that with great defense, stellar special teams play, and a triple option offensive attack that is unparalleled. We felt as a staff that they were the most dangerous team left in the Round of 8, so we know we’ve got an uphill battle on Saturday…”

Last week, the Lions of A&M Commerce made poised and calculated offensive drives against Mankato and the offensive line protected Luis Perez beautifully. Throw in great Special Teams play by Buck Wilson (PR TD) and Punter Tristan Perry dropping the last punt at the opponent 1-yard line with the game nearing conclusion. That recipe of success sent the Lions out with their 3rd road victory of the playoffs. The big factor in the playoffs for this team? D-E-F-E-N-S-E

Coach Carthel: “It will be important that we are “All In” on Saturday in every phase of the game. Defensively, we want to try and limit the damage of their option attack. We know they’re going to get yards, chew up a bunch of clock, and score some points, but we’ve got to be able to get some stops and keep ourselves in the game.”

The defense has played stellar and made key plays in climatic situations during the football game. I strongly feel that my previous statement is why the Lions are where they are (or at least one of the biggest pieces to the entire pie). On the offense, this QB-Receiving Corps duo has me mesmerized by the catch ability (going up and getting the ball) and YAC that they are getting in the open field. Coach Carthel: “Offensively we have to be efficient with the ball, as we won’t get many opportunities due to their style of play. And these guys are as good as anybody we’ve faced in the playoffs on special teams, so we will have to really work to gain some of the hidden yards to be found in that phase.”

(Harding Defensive Lineman Toni Montez)

The Harding Bisons saw the glimmer of light going out in week 4 of their season when they looked up and saw their record at 0-3. Upon that moment, the team has avalanched toward an 11-game win streak that might be one for the history books and has become a true underdog story. Be ready, this team doesn’t pass the ball a lot (6 passes last week with 0 completions); but, they are one of the best; if not, the best rushing team in Division 2 Football.

Now, it is hard not to compare Harding to Commerce’s LSC opponent Eastern New Mexico, who runs a similar unique offensive scheme. They have similarities but the physique of the Harding RBs and running styles are clearly different. However, I do believe there is some advantage to playing a similar offensive style team like ENMU each year, because the defense has to prepare a specific way for a triple-option offense. For Commerce, they are used to doing that every season and they handed ENMU their worst loss of the season, fairly handily. No matter though; Harding is NOT Eastern New Mexico. I do feel that it worth mentioning these notes though. In most years, statistically, Harding is the #1 rushing offense and ENMU is the #2 rushing offense. Read into that fact, whatever you think it could or could not be. Heck, that fact may mean nothing in this game.

Game Analysis: I said it last week against Mankato. In order to make any sort of impact, the Defense will have to get into the backfield. The Mankato Defense could not get to Perez or slow down the passing game, while the Commerce defense stood tall in the 2nd half. Harding has also been a team that has been stellar in the 2nd half during their 3 playoff wins. I truly wonder how that will incorporate this week against Commerce. For the Lions, they will have to get the Harding Offense under control and get the Bisons off the field, or they will chew-up a lot of clock. Unfortunately, the Lions offense is a team that can score and score quickly. However, time is always a factor in any football game.

Concluding Comments by Coach Carthel: “Through this playoff run, we have seen a glimpse into the future of the Lion Football program, and that future is bright. Not many people realize that this past week when we won a Regional Championship against the #1 ranked team in the country, we had 17 freshmen that played a significant role in that game! While some of our older players are receiving a lot of national recognition, we’ve got some tremendous young players that are gaining a lot of playoff experience and confidence in their own abilities. No matter the outcome of this game Saturday, this program has a chance to be even better in the future…We’re really excited to be playing at home in the National Semifinal this Saturday! It’s going to be a beautiful day in Commerce, America, a record-breaking crowd is expected, ESPN and the Dallas Morning News will be covering the game, and you’ve got two terrific teams squaring off… Who could ask for anything more?”

When I saw the final four teams in the Playoffs, I personally saw this being an exciting game. Today, I still think that it will be a really great game. Ultimately, this comes down to execution and not turning the ball over. I just don’t think the Harding Defense will be able to get to Perez enough times, just like Mankato had difficulty with last week. On the flip side, I think that the Lions Defense slows the triple-option down just enough to edge this one out. Weather outlook: 55 degrees NNW Wind 13 mph and sunny. The Lions slow down the Bisons and win in Commerce with a record-setting crowd…by 2 points.

Texas A&M Commerce 26 Harding 24

Be safe and God Bless!
Joe Price,


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Updated 12-07-2017 at 08:10 PM by Joe Price

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