Greetings, Lion fans, and welcome to the Regional Semifinals of the Division 2 playoffs. Before we take a closer look at the Orediggers of Colorado School of Mines, let’s take a look back at what has to be considered as one of the Top 5 upsets in Lion football history.
What we witnessed this past weekend in Stephenville was a complete team effort. If there have been any doubts about what David Bailiff was selling, or just how successful he would be,they can certainly be put to rest. This coaching staff is all in. The players can sense that, and they are all in. The Lions certainly proved that this past Saturday.
Red shirt sophomore Miklo Smalls proved himself to be the best quarterback in the Lone Star Conference on this day, going 12 for 23 passing for 197 yards, overcame one early interception, and led the team in rushing with 126 yards on just 16 attempts. Sophomore Jemal Williams, 6’0″ 190 lbs., added 69 tough yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, Red shirt junior Antonio Lealiiee was stout again in limited duty with 32 yards on just 7 carries and a touchdown.
Junior Chance Cooper, 6’3″ 205 lbs., had 103 yards on just 3 catches. Senior Ryan Stokes, 6’3″ 185 lbs., had 59 yards on 4 catches including a critical fourth quarter grab that got the Lions out of the shadows of their own goal line. While they didn’t produce any touchdowns, the receivers were absolutely essential in keeping the offense balanced, and not allowing the ferocious Texan pass rush to tee off. In fact, the offensive line allowed just one sack all day.
If the reader has ever wondered what our colleague Billy Minor calls “Championship Level” defense, there was a perfect example of it Saturday. Instead of folding after an early turnover, the Blue Gang stood tall and forced a Tarleton field goal. From there on out, every play was a street fight. Senior linebacker Terrell Collins, 6’0″ 245 lbs., was a standout with 11 tackles and two huge sacks. The Lion defense sacked, what according to the conference media, was the best quarterback in the LSC this year 5 times.
Senior cornerback LA Dawson, 6’0″ 180 lbs., shut down the Texans best receiver, Zimari Manning, limiting him to just 87 yards on 5 catches. Red shirt senior Jaylon Edwards-Cooper, 5’11” 175 lbs., and red shirt junior Kader Kohou, 5’11” 180 lbs., each had a pair of passes broken up, and overall frustrated what had been one of the most prolific passing attacks in all of Division 2., allowing only a single first half touchdown pass.
Just how good was the Blue Gang? Tarleton had been averaging 550 yards of total offense and 47 points per game. This past weekend, they were held to 16 points, and 330 yards.
So, with that, the Lions bid a not so fond farewell to a former rival, and according to various fan and player accounts, none too soon. Now, onto the Regional Semifinals, and the third seeded Colorado School of Mines Orediggers.
AT FIRST GLANCE-The Orediggers are members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and if that sound familiar to Lion fans, it should. They are in the same group with Colorado State-Pueblo, who the Lions faced earlier this season.
Mines comes into this game undefeated at 12-0, having defeated Pueblo 34-14 on September 21st. Their record appears to be somewhat deceiving, having played only 4 teams with a winning record, and a collective record of 52-68, compared with the Lions having played 6 teams with a winning record, and a collective record of 64-48. After the victory last week, the Lions currently stand at 10-2.
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE-
Lions Offensive line-6’3″ 290 lbs.
Mines Front 7(D Line & Linebackers)6’1″ 217 lbs.
Yes, you are reading that correctly. The Mines front seven averages 217 lbs. That is due to nose tackle Jack McAdams, a 6’0″ 170 lbs., red shirt junior. They are led up front by junior defensive end, Luke Jeter, 6’3″ 240 lbs., who has 7 sacks on the season. Red shirt freshman linebacker Nolan Reeve, 6’2″ 220 lbs., has 7 1/2 sacks.
A pair of linebackers are among the leading tacklers on the Orediggers. Red shirt senior Averie Mansfield, 6’2″ 230 lbs., is second on the team with 57 (21 solo), and red shirt sophomore Mack Minnehan, 6’0″ 195 lbs., is third with 55 (25 solo).
The Lion offensive line is coming off one of the best games of the year, paving the way for 224 yards rushing on 43 attempts, and averaging just over 5 yards per carry. They allowed only one sack against one of the best pass rushes in all of Division 2.
The Lions were led up front by senior transfer Deion Malone, 6’3″ 295 lbs., and red shirt junior Amon Simon 6’5″ 290 lbs., This group has continued to jell and has gotten better as the season has progressed.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE-The Orediggers back line is led by leading tackler Kobe Brewster, a 5’10” 180 lb. red shirt sophomore, with 70 tackles (30 solo). He is joined by red shirt freshman Cam Forrest, 5’9″ 175 lbs., sophomore Mason Pierce, 5’10” 185 lbs., and red shirt freshman Jaden Williams, 5’11” 185 lbs. The Mines defensive staff is not afraid to take chances, and will cheat Brewster down near the line of scrimmage.
The Lions rushing attack, despite taking on the appearance of a hospital emergency room on a Saturday night during Mardi Gras, have proven to be both productive and resourceful. Lealiiee has 712 yards on 104 attempts, with 7 touchdowns, and a long of 56. Williams, a converted linebacker who may have seen his last days on defense, has 454 yards on 71 attempts with 3 touchdowns, and a long of 73. No touchdown was bigger than his nine yard touchdown run late in the third quarter that effectively sealed last week’s win for the Lions.
Miklo Smalls has continued to energize the Lions offense, completing 205 of 302 passes, for a 229.4 yards per game average, with 6 interceptions, 22 touchdowns, and a long of 78 yards. He also has added 527 yards on 97 carries, with two touchdowns, and a 60 yarder that set up the game clinching score last week. He has forced opponents to defend all 11 offensive players with his ability to avoid the pass rush, and make plays with his feet. To quote my colleague Brian Pate, Smalls “runs with a purpose.”
Stokes and Cooper continue to make big plays in the passing game. Stokes leads the team with 553 yards on 40 catches, with four touchdowns, and a long of 52 yards. Cooper has 516 yards on 32 catches, three touchdowns, and a long of 73 yards.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED-Jake Viquez continues to be money. He was good on three of 4 attempts last week in a tricky wind, including two field goals of 46 and 41 yards. His directional and pooch kickoffs continue to be very effective.
Andrew Gomez just continues along quietly, averaging 40.5 yards on 34 punts. He has outstanding in limiting opponent’s punt return ablilities.
Red shirt senior receiver Sean O’Dell, 5’7″ 165 lbs., is the Orediggers leading punt returner, with 15 returns for a 9.8 yard average and a long of 19 yards. Red shirt senior receiver Brandon Farmer, 5’10” 185 lbs., returns kickoffs for Mines, and averages 25.8 yards on 7 returns.
BY THE NUMBERS-
WHAT’S GOING DOWN-In the words of the Willie Nelson hit, the Lions are “On The Road Again.”. This time, they make the trek to the Rocky Mountains just outside Denver in the home of Coors beer, Golden, Colorado, to face an Orediggers team that escaped with a 27-24 victory over Sioux Falls on a last second field goal.
At first glance, Mines seems to be a smallish defense with not a lot of speed. There’s a very good reason, though, why they are 12-0, and own a victory over a team that has defeated the Lions, Colorado State-Pueblo.
The Orediggers are well coached defensively, and are able to overcome their lack of size with a very good scheme. They also tackle very well.
For the Lions, there are some adjustments. They will come into the game on the heels of what is anticipated to be a very big winter storm in the Denver area, and at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, adjusting to the altitude will be a factor. The weather, though, is forecasted to improve by the weekend, with approximately a 20 % chance of snow, with partly cloudy skies, and a high temperature of 31. It is not an unfamiliar situation for the Lions, as the elevation of Pueblo, where they played earlier, is just over 4,500 feet.
For the most part, the song remains the same: 1. Keep Miklo Smalls upright, in a clean pocket, and let him do his thing. 2. Pound the Rock-The Lions are averaging almost 180 yards per game rushing, and last week dominated time of possession, and to quote Tarleton Head Coach Todd Whitten, “We just ran out of gas at a point.” Good things happen when a team is able to run the football. 3. Adapt and Overcome-Yes, it’s going to be cold, and it’s high up in the mountains. The Lions have been there before. 4. Ball Security-Hold onto the ball. Don’t allow a punishing Mines offense a short field. 5. Again, and I know this sounds like a broken record…”Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”
One play at a time, one series at a time, one quarter at a time. This is a very winnable game, Lion fans. Time go 1-0 for another week.
See You Saturday.