- Overall-Don’t pinch yourself. This is real, but I would not blame you if you wanted to. After the game I took a nap to really think about what to write that would be insightful. However, this is what has happened. David Bailiff, one of the most underrated coaches in the state of Texas has taken one of the best Division II programs in the country and has expanded on that success. He has had to merge the talent that was left over with new faces that he brought in, with new coaches and a new offensive and defensive system. The result? Some struggles that resulted in two dropped regular season games, but a playoff birth that allowed them to avenge one of those losses in dominating fashion, and then another dominating road win over a team that defeated a team the Lions lost to. What fans have seen over the past 6 weeks is a team that knew that their season was over if they lost just one of those games, but through hard work and preparation was able to win all of those games and get to this point, playing for the Super Region 4 Championship. Yeah, this is real because this team is real.
- Offense-I said that this team would only go as far as Miklo Smalls goes. Maybe, maybe not. However, he is the battery that makes this car run. His running ability and explosive playmaking skills have made the Lion offense what it is today. As good as the offense is, it is a unit. The offensive line continues to do it’s job, which is to allow Smalls time to run the offense and open up holes for a running game that has become an integral part of the success of the offense. The best part about this offense is how everyone gets in on the act. Kelan Smith has recovered from his Sophomore slump and is playing at a high level, Ryan Stokes and Chance Cooper have been explosive all year, and new WR’s like Greg Craddick and Jeremiah Bridges have shown themselves to be powerful weapons, and Tyler Guice has done nothing but block well and catch huge passes the entire year. We all know about the running back situation. Antonio Lealilee was 5 down on the depth chart and is first team all conference at running back. Jemal Williams was a walk on linebacker at the start of the season and is scoring touchdowns in the NCAA playoffs. That is a testament to how this team is run.
- Defense-I could write a lot about this, but I believe less is more. This defense has faced 3 Harlon Hill candidates and beat them all. 10 sacks against a QB who is considered the best Freshman QB in the country along with 4 forced turnovers. What else can you observe other than DC Xavier Adibi has taken a group of very talented athletes and turned them into a Championship caliber defense worthy of being called “The Blue Gang.” Or as I should say, “Championship Level Defense.” If this play continues and/or gets better, we will be in McKinney in 3 weeks from yesterday.
- Special Teams-I usually give analysis on this, but I want to point someone out. Special teams for a lot of guys is their only chance to play on the field. Today, Preston Wheeler, who has done everything right as a student and a football player, showed that he is just as valuable as anyone else on this team. After being a backup QB for two seasons, he became the starter at the beginning of last year for 4 games before Kane Wilson took over. He could have packed up and gone to a conference rival and started at 2-3 other LSC schools, but he did not. He has two jobs on this football team, deliver quality holds for Jake Viquez, and be ready if Miklo Smalls cannot go. Today, he directly helped put up 13 of the 23 points because he was ready to do his job. His TD throw to Tyler Guice was perfect and the second throw was as well. That is the quality of person we want representing our school and football team. In a game where both teams had back up quarterbacks that were needed, ours delivered in fine fashion. Good things happen to good people, and you have to feel good for what happened to Preston today.
- Going Forward-We are back to where we were at 2 years ago. We will be playing for the Region 4 Championship in less than a week. It is nice to feel good about this win, but like HC Bailiff said in his post game presser, time to get back to work on Sunday. This team has shown itself to be a team that can win a National Championship this season, and there is no good reason why that cannot happen. This is a team that is battle tested, has overcome adversity, and is still standing. And the ultimate goal is be standing when the clock hits all zeros on December 21st in McKinney, and from here, it is possible.
Extra Notes: With his win Saturday, David Bailiff becomes one of only a handful of coaches to win 11 games on 3 different levels of college football. He also is only a handful of coaches who has won postseason games on 3 different levels as well. (Division I FBS, Division I FCS, Division II)
Here is the latest in scores from the Division II Playoffs-
Super Region 1-
Slippery Rock-51, Shepherd-30
Notre Dame (Ohio)-20, Kutztown-17
Super Region 1 Championship-
Notre Dame (Ohio) @ Slippery Rock, December 7th
Super Region 2-
Ferris State-37, Central Missouri-10
Northwest Missouri State-63, Lindenwood-7
Super Region 2 Championship-
Northwest Missouri State @ Ferris State, December 7th
Super Region 3-
West Florida-38, Valdosta State-35
Super Region 3 Championship-
West Florida @ Lenior Ryhne, December 7th
Super Region 4-
Texas A&M-Commerce-23, Colorado Mines-3
Minnesota State Mankato-35, Colorado State-Pueblo-7
Super Region 4 Championship-
Texas A&M-Commerce @ Minnesota State Mankato, December 7th