Championship Chronicles Part 24: 2014 Texas A&M-Commerce Lions.

After the 2009 season, expectations were high that Guy Morriss would be the man to lead TAMUC Football back to what it once had been. In the Spring of 2010, Memorial Stadium received it’s largest renovation and expansion ever. Safeplay turf had been installed in 2006 and the track had been resurfaced, but the renovation of 2010 saw massive improvements. The east side, which had been torn down in the early 80’s, was rebuilt and added 3,500 seats along with another press box for opposing coaches and broadcasters, as well as a WIFI network and a state of the art Video Scoreboard that was the second largest in all of NCAA Division II. Also, the T-Lounge was torn down and there was a brand new Football locker room and facility that was built on the opposite side of the stadium. Things were looking up, and when the season started in Commerce, the Lions routed Upper Iowa 33-10 to begin the season, pushing Guy Morriss’s record to 6-1 over the past 7 games.

Then, it all came crashing down. Internal problems with the team and the athletic department all had the impact on the Football program. Morriss would only win 5 more games over the next 3 years. At the end of the 2012 season, Morriss stepped down immediately after the final game of the season and announced he would help with the transition to a new Football coach. There first needed to be a search for a new athletic director, as Carlton Cooper “resigned” under very dubious and suspicious circumstances.

Carthel and friends

There were new Sheriffs in town, Dr. Dan Jones was leading an explosive growth in student enrollment and scholastic University Achievements, Colby Carthel was hired to bring Lion football back, and Ryan Ivey brought winning back to Commerce Athletics.

Ryan Ivey came to Commerce from McNeese State. From the start, he made it very clear that mediocrity was not going to be tolerated in any sport, let alone Football. He found the man he wanted to lead Lion football completely on the other side of the state, West Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator Colby Carthel.

When Carthel came to Commerce, his impact was immediate and potent. He purged the program of 50 of the 85 players who were left over by throwing a boot camps geared to see who was really Lion material. With so many players leaving, Carthel had to recruit JUCO’s heavily to fill in the spots and found some key players for the 2013 season.

The 2013 season was full of success. At first, big publicity. The turf at Memorial Stadium was torn out and replaced with massive Lion Headed Logo that set the Guinness Book of World Records for largest on field logo. It gave the program so much needed positive press.

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A Massive Logo at Memorial Stadium brought the Lions some much needed positive press.

The Lions defeated two ranked teams in Delta State and rival Tarleton State and also beat Division I Houston Baptist. They finished the season at 7-5 and for the first time since 1995 played in a postseason game as they were invited to the LiveUnited Texarkana Bowl. The groundwork for the 2014 season was set.

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Texas A&M-Commerce’s Alan Beatty (33) and Taylor Peasha (80) celebrate an upset victory over # 23 Delta State at AT&T Stadium in the Fall of 2013. 2013 was the start of the Lion Football resurgence.

The Lions were picked to finish sixth heading into the 2014 season. That is what made the season opener so unbelievable to behold.

On Defense, the Lions returned basically their entire starting lineup from the previous year. On Offense, the Lions were loaded as well. All-American Vernon Johnson came back for his Senior year, former Auburn QB Tyrik Rollison had found big time success only 30 minutes from home, and the Lions also had playmakers such as Seth Smith. It also saw a monster backfield that saw the rise of future All-American Richard Cooper, and the addition of former Texas Longhorn starting tailback Joe Bergeron just added fuel to the fire. Add to that a back-up QB in Deric Davis who would have started at any other school in the league and there was some major firepower to behold.

Kicking off the season against East Texas Baptist at home, the Lions set school, conference, and national records as they defeated ETBU 98-20. The win caught national attention and Colby Carthel was interviewed the next day by ESPN’s Linda Cohn on SportsCenter, giving the Lions national exposure. The next week at Home Bryce Stadium in Nacgodoches, the Lions went up against Division I Stephen F. Austin State. The Lions did the exact opposite of what had done the week before. Making many mistakes on offense and having defensive lapses, the Lions fell to the Lumberjacks 38-17.

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Deric Davis had his day when The Lions pummeled Tarleton State.

Heading back to AT&T Stadium, the Lions pummeled rival Texas A&M-Kingsville 55-20 to reclaim the Chennault Cup for the third straight season. Starting conference play 1-0 was critical. Heading to Blackwater Draw the next week to faced 23rd ranked Eastern New Mexico, the Lions knew they had a stiff challenge. The Greyhounds had beaten the Lions the previous year in Commerce and knew that the Triple Option/Wishbone attack the Hounds ran so well was what they would be facing. Playing in the elements of an old stadium with a lot of mystique behind it, the Lions never the less came out on top of a ranked Eastern team 48-32. However, Rollison was knocked out of the game and Deric Davis came in to seal the deal and keep the Lions on the right path.

The Lions came back home to Commerce and with Davis pulling the trigger by getting his first start since 2012, TAMUC wiped out rival Tarleton State 53-25. Davis showed he was every bit as good as any QB in the league with his fantastic performance as the Lions took the President’s cup for the second straight year. Next week would be much tougher.

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Tyrik Rollison commanded the best offense in school history and in the nation during 2014.

Angelo State was ranked 11th in the country and had the Lions at home for a true test to see how good the Lions really were. In a back and forth affair, it came down to a final field goal attempt. With TAMUC leading 41-40, Angelo attempted a long field goal that sailed wide seemingly giving the Lions a victory, but there was a flag on the play. Offsides and ASU would get another chance. The Lion defense crashed through the ASU line and got just enough of the tip of the ball to cause it to come up short. The Lions had survived.

The next week in Commerce and back in the polls for the first time since 2009, the Lions had done something they had not done in years. Carthel’s group pummeled his former team in West Texas A&M and handed them the worse loss they had experienced in years in the form of a 48-21 beating. The Lions were riding very high heading into a road trip to Wichita Falls to take on Midwestern State.

With a 6-1 record and a 5-0 record the Lions raced out to a 17-3 halftime lead, but then, MSU came roaring back to tie the game at the end. Lion kicker Saul Martinez, who had been money on his field goals, missed a chip shot field goal that would have won the game for the Lions. Going to overtime, TAMUC got the ball first and settled for a field goal. MSU’s running game, which had gashed the Lions the entire second half, kept coming at the Lions and scored a touchdown on their first possession of overtime to down the Lions. Shoddy officiating did not help either as the Lions saw many important calls go against them, but the Lions lost the game and it fell at their feet.

2014

For the first time in 24 years, the LSC Conference trophy was lifted in Commerce.

The Lions had a lot to play for. If they beat McMurry the next week, they would win the LSC title for the first time since 1990 and still have a very good shot at the playoffs. In front of 10,000 fans, the largest crowd at Memorial Stadium in years, the Lions put on another 90 point plus offensive clinic by defeating McMurry and claiming the LSC title on Senior Day and Homecoming. It was a sweet feeling that quenched the bitter taste of the previous week.

Due to only having 8 LSC football teams, the league created a very controversial way to end the season, a conference playoff. It would guarantee the teams two more games against each other. The top four would play the top four and the bottom four would play the bottom four. The top four at seasons end were the Lions followed by Angelo State, Midwestern, and Tarleton.

The Lions got the fourth seeded Texans first and quickly found an improved Texan team, but did just enough to hold off a determined Tarleton squad 56-49. At 8-2, the final game was a rematch against Angelo State in Commerce and the stakes were high. If the Lions won, they would get a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since 1995. A loss would likely relegate them to the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl.

In front of a sparse home crowd due to University events and socials that had been planned, the Lions play was as cold as the 42 degree day itself. Rollison and the Lion receivers were completely off and Angelo State QB Kyle Washington made life miserable for the Lions. The Lion offense finally came to life trailing the Rams 35-13 at the beginning of the final quarter. Rollison found his rhythm and hit Seth Smith and Ricky Collins for touchdowns and the Lion defense stepped up to hold the Rams on their final possession. The Lions had one more shot and worked their way 73 yards down the field in 9 plays as Joe Bergeron took a Rollison pass and scored from 5 yards out to make the score 35-33. The two point conversion failed and the Rams escaped Commerce with a win and a sure spot in the playoffs. The Lions had to await their fate.

Selection Sunday saw the Lions just miss out on the playoffs, but got a call just a few days later inviting them to play East Central Oklahoma in the Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove. In a game that was the perfect picture of the season, the Lions poured on 633 yards of total offense and routed their one time LSC foe 72-21.

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The Hardware came in droves during the 2014 season. LSC Champs, Chennault Cup Champs, President Cup Champs, Heart of Texas Bowl Champions.

Though the season did not end in the NCAA playoffs, the Lions had a lot to be proud of. Conference champions, 9-3 overall, Bowl Champions, the best and highest scoring offense in the country and in school history. The precedent was set for the next seasons.

Awards and Honors-

All-American-Vernon Johnson (Consensus), Toni Pulu, Saul Martinez. 

First Team All LSC-Vernon Johnson, Ricky Collins, Saul Martinez, Charlie Tuaau, Toni Pulu, Ronald Fields. 

Second Team All-LSC-Elwood Clement, Seth Smith, Joe Bergeron, Tyrik Rollison, Steven Baker, Izzy Eziakor, Charles Woods, Devarus Shores,

Honorable Mention All-LSC-Taylor Peshea, Jordan DeCorte, Shane Thompson, Rumzee Fakhouri, Michael Boyifeo, Shawn Hooks, Ashton Dorsey, Cole Pitts, Tyree Barton, Traven Johnson, Chase Thrasher, Cameron Rodgers. 

Vernon Johnson, Ricky Collins, Charlie Tuaau, Joe Bergeron, and Ron Fields all inked NFL free agent Deals. Tyrik Rollison and Deric Davis both signed with Arena League teams, and Devarus Shores and Seth Smith were called to the Canadian Football League. 

Roar Back Here.....

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