Greetings, Lion fans, and normally, we would be breaking down the Lions final regular season match up against the always tough Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds.
These are not normal times, however. Not after AD Tim McMurray did his best wizard impression and pulled off the move of the year in adding the defending Division II National Champions, the West Florida Argonauts. This is the kind of game that can do one of two things: 1. Give a team an incredible momentum boost for the rest of the year, or 2. Throw a cloud of doubt over the season.
This game here is what is so different and exciting about Division II football as opposed to the four team structure in Division I. Because of the 28 team format and regional seeding, an early season loss by either team does not make the year a total disaster. Top ranked teams can afford to square off in a non conference meeting. It makes for a better and overall more exciting product. So let’s dive right in, and look at the champions from Pensacola.
2019 Record: 13-2 (GSC and National Champions)
Biggest Win: vs. Minnesota State-Mankato, 48-40 (National Championship Game)
Biggest Loss: vs. Carson Newman, 20-13
Coach: Pete Schinnick, 5th season (35-17)
Returning Starters: 5 Offense, 6 Defense
THE SKINNY: Pete Schinnick has been nothing less than incredible in his five year stint at West Florida. In the Argos second year of football in 2017, Schinnick guided his team to the title game, only to be denied by the Lions. After a 6-5 2018 season, the Argos reloaded, and behind the sensational play of red shirt freshman quarterback Austin Reed, outscored the Mavericks of Minnesota State, 48-40. Despite holes in the roster due to graduation, Schinnick has proven to be more than capable of retooling.
Points: 36.5 ppg
Rushing: 131.1 ypg
Passing: 280.8 ypg
Total: 411.9 ypg
Rushing: Anthony Johnson (5’10” 200 lbs., Sr.) 155-655 yds. 8 TD Long 20
Jervon Newton (5’11” 195 lbs., RS-Jr.) 127-528 yds. 4 TD Long 27
Passing: Austin Reed (6’1″ 210 lbs., RS-Soph.) 279-490-11 INT 4,084 yds., 40 TD Long 65
Receiving: Rodney Coates (6’2″ 195 lbs., RS-Sr.) 36-471 yds. 5 TD Long 47
Ka’Ron Ashley (6’3″ 165 lbs., RS-Sr.) 26-429 yds. 6 TD Long 51
Ken Channelle (5’10” 180 lbs., RS-Soph.) 16-217 yds. 2 TD Long 32
THE SKINNY: Red shirt freshman sensation Austin Reed returns to engineer a still potent West Florida offense. Standouts Tate Lehitio and Kevin Grant are gone, but a balanced group of wide outs that include red shirt seniors Rodney Coates and Ka’Ron Ashley return, and red shirt sophomore Ken Channelle looks to improve on a promising 2019 season. Anthony Johnson and Jervon Newton provide some punch in the run game.
Points: 19.6 ppg
Rushing: 166.9 ypg
Passing: 188.4 ypg
Total: 355.3 ypg
DB D’Anthony Bell (6’2″ 205 lbs., RS-Sr.) 77 tackles (41 solo)
DB Sharrod Oliver (5’11” 175 lbs., Jr.) 59 tackles (41 solo)
LB Gael Laurent (6’2″ 215 lbs., RS-Soph.) 52 tackles (28 solo) 8 1/2 sacks
THE SKINNY: Graduation has taken its toll on the Argonaut defense. Bell and Oliver are the leading tacklers, and Laurent has 8 1/2 quarterback sacks for a defense that thrives off of turnovers. West Florida appears to have some issues stopping the run, giving up an average of over 166 yards per game. There is some definite work to be done here.
Punting: Dawson Hamlin (6’3″ 200 lbs., Jr.) 52-43.4 yds. Long 59
Kicking: Alex Virgilio (5’9″ 180 lbs., RS-Jr.) 1-2 FG Long 37
Punt Return: WR Ka’ron Ashley 20-6.05 yds. Long 37
Kick Return: DB Marcus Clayton (5’10” 166 lbs., RS-Sr.) 14-25.8 yds. 1 TD Long 75
RB Shomari Mason (5’6″ 170 lbs., Soph) 3-24.6 yds. Long 32
THE SKINNY: Hamlin averages a solid 43.4 yards per punt, and has a strong leg with a long of 59 yards. Virgilio takes over the kicking duties and shows promise. Ashley is a good punt returner. Red shirt senior defensive back Marcus Clayton and sophomore running back Shomari Mason have flashed big play ability in the kick return game.
THE LOW DOWN
What a match up to start the season. Teams that have won two of the last three National Championships in Division II. Two teams that have proven over and over again that they can get it done on the road in a hostile environment.
West Florida comes into this game now with the same issues that the Lions faced in 2018. The hunter now becomes the hunted. Fortunately, for the Argonauts, they get the Lions at home in Pensacola.
The Argonauts have some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Graduation has taken a toll on the defensive front and receiving corps. Can they duplicate the opportunistic defense that carried them in 2019? Will they be able to shore up a run defense that appears to be less than stellar?
The Lions come in loaded. The offensive line returns intact, and Miklo Smalls returns as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country. The Blue Gang defense is one of the best in the nation overall, and can put real pressure on opposing passers.
Yes, the Argonauts are the defending national champions, and yes, the Lions are taking another long road trip to face a top team. They have been there before. They have bought into the program of second year coach David Bailiff and his staff, and are as prepared as ever.
This is a game that on the surface, looks to be a tough one. The closer you look at things, though, it is a game that the Lions can and should win.
What a way to start. It’s Time to Hunt.