Greetings, Lion fans. It’s time to take an overall look at the matchups, offense vs. defense, special teams, and the verdict on the game.
The facts are these….this is the biggest game in Commerce since the NAIA National Semifinal in 1980. This is uncharted waters for the Lions, as in 1980, there were only three rounds of playoffs. One win put the Lions in the semifinal. No Lion team has ever gone this far or won 12 games in a season. This will be a game of two contrasting styles-the freewheeling, aerial attack of Texas A&M-Commerce vs. the grind-it-out, flexbone option attack of Harding. Let’s take a look together at the possibilities of one more win.
Bison Offense vs. Lion Defense-Old school. That is the Harding offense. Operating out of the Flexbone, the Bison are second in the country in rushing at 351.2 yards per game. The Lion defense is 28th at 118.8 yards per game. With the offensive line of the Bison and the Lion front seven relatively even, this matchup is going to be decided by the Lions being able to continue their aggressive, attacking style, while maintaining the discipline needed to contain the Bison option attack. The good news for the Lions is, they have faced this type of offense before in Eastern New Mexico, and Coach Carthel and his staff work with the defense very hard on how to neutralize it. They have also faced run dominant teams with huge offensive lines in Central Washington and Minnesota State, and have been effective in controlling the run. They will need to be at their best this weekend. If they are able to control the run, the real advantage the Lions will have here is that the Bison passing game is almost non-existent. Terrance Dingle of the Bison has attempted 70, that’s right, 70 passes all season. If the Lions are able to control the run, and disrupt the timing of the option pitch, they will force Harding into a style they really do not want to play. EDGE-LIONS.
Lion Offense vs. Bison Defense-The Lion offense is the exact opposite of the Bison offense. Luis Perez, the #1 ranked passer in all of Division 2, has an array of weapons from which to choose to go with the ball. The rushing game, while not spectacular on paper, has been very effective in balancing the attack, and enabling them to control the clock. With the gaudy numbers of Perez and the receivers, one member of the offense who is quietly putting up spectacular numbers over the course of the season and deserves a mention here is running back Carandale Hale. This season, he has amassed 1,092 combined yards. There is no one dominant receiver that Perez relies on, instead spreading the wealth among Buck Wilson, Marquis Wimberly, Darrion Landry, Vincent Hobbs, and D’Arthur Cowan. This has made Texas A&M-Commerce one of the top offenses in the country.
The Bison defense, while no one thing stands out, have an aggressive style from a 4-2-5 set. Their front six have very quick and active people. They are adept at turning their opponents over, and taking advantage of a short field.
For the Lion offense, the song remains the same……the offensive line will need to keep a clean pocket and protect Luis Perez, allowing him time to work his magic. The running game will need to be effective….meaning maybe not that many yards, but enough to keep the Bison guessing. Third, and this may be the most important. DO NOT TURN THE BALL OVER. The Bison running attack will most certainly try to shorten the game, so the Lions must protect the football. If they are able to do so, they will find success. EDGE-LIONS
Special Teams-The Bison kicking chores, both punting and placekicking, are handled by Tristan Parsley, who hit a game winner at the gun is last week’s win over Ferris State. He is 15-21 in field goals, with a long of 50. His punting average is 37.5 yards, with a long of 56.
The Lions are led by, and I’ll say this again, the best pressure kicker in the country, at any level, in Kristov Martinez. He has won games against North Alabama and Central Washington, and put the Lions ahead to stay last week against Minnesota State with a 48 yarder. Tristan Perry handles the punting with a 39.1 yard average, with a long of 76. The biggest kick of Perry’s career so far was the one last week with about 2 minutes to go, which pinned Minnesota State on their own one yard line, and allowed the Lions to keep everything in front of them and force the Mavericks to use a lot of clock time. There’s not much to debate here….EDGE-LIONS
Coaching-The Bison staff have done an outstanding job, recovering from an 0-3 start to win 11 straight games, the last three on the road. That is commendable.
There are not words sufficient to describe the job that Colby Carthel and his staff have done with the Lions this year. There are many peaks and valleys during a season, and the Lion staff have navigated them flawlessly, overcoming injury, a tough and demanding Lone Star Conference schedule, and a playoff run that has so far included three straight playoff wins over teams with a combined record of 34-1. Let that sink in a minute…34-1, two top 5 teams, including the #1 team in Division 2. EDGE-LIONS.
Intangibles-Finally, after three straight weeks and almost 10,000 frequent flyer miles, the Lions are home for a playoff game. I’ve said this before, there is something that is just magical about afternoon games at Ernest Hawkins Field. There are none bigger that the one this Saturday. If the Lions play their game-accomplish the three goals stated here; then they will see success. EDGE-LIONS
The Verdict-Again, if the Lions are successful controlling the run, execute their offense, strike early and often, the Bison will be forced into a style that they are not successful with….the final….LIONS 38, BISON 20.
Again, I want to thank everyone for giving me a glance, and for the kind words. Many thanks to Brian Pate for allowing me the opportunity offer my thoughts. This is just the way I see things playing out. I know, though, that the games are played by people. Things can and sometimes happen. Look forward to seeing everyone there Saturday that are able to come GO LIONS!