Small College Recap: Texas A&M-Commerce flashes championship mettle in playoff win

Courtesy Texas A&M-Commerce athletics

Team of the Week:

No. 15 Texas A&M-Commerce Lions (10-2, 7-1)

Last Week: Texas A&M-Commerce used a familiar combination last Saturday as they earned a 33-17 upset win over No. 5 Minnesota Duluth (11-1, 11-0) on the road in the first round of the NCAA DII playoffs. Defense and special teams were huge during last season’s national championship run, and the Lions used that same combination last week. TAMUC held the Bulldogs to only 188 total yards of offense in the game. The Lions defense was led by Garrett Blubaugh as he recorded 10 tackles including two and a half tackles for loss and two sacks. Mark Westbrook recorded a key interception for the Lions. Dominique Ramsey had an incredible 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Lions a lead they would never relinquish. Dayne Douglass returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Kristov Martinez was on target as always as he made field goals from 25 and 43 yards in the game. Ryan Stokes was key for the offense as he led all receivers with 100 yards on five receptions. Kane Wilson completed 14-of-31 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Ovie Urevbu gained 65 rushing yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for the Lions.

The Verdict: The Lions improved to an impressive 3-0 when playing in the state of Minnesota during the NCAA DII playoffs the last two years. That’s even more impressive with the cold weather conditions the Lions have faced during those games. TAMUC will try to earn their way back to the regional final this week against conference rival Tarleton State who defeated the Lions 47-21 earlier this season. The Lions defense has been superb over the last five weeks and special teams is always a threat for head coach Colby Carthel. The Lions will need to avoid turnovers this week against the potent rushing attack of Tarleton State.

This Week: TAMUC travels to Stephenville this week as they play No. 6 Tarleton State (11-0, 8-0) Saturday at 1 p.m. in the NCAA DII regional quarterfinals.


No. 24 Incarnate Word Cardinals (6-4, 6-2)

Last Week: UIW had a bye last week.

The Verdict: The Cardinals received outstanding news Sunday as they earned their first at-large playoff berth to the NCAA FCS playoffs in program history. This has been a season of incredible progress under first year head coach Eric Morris. UIW also secured their first ever Southland Conference title in program history as they finished co-champions with Nicholls. The Cardinals will be a difficult team in the playoffs, but the path is not easy. With a win the weekend, UIW would travel to play national powerhouse and overall No. 1 seed North Dakota State. 

This Week: UIW will travel to Bozeman, Mont., Saturday as they play No. 23 Montana State at 2 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA FCS playoffs. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Lamar Cardinals (7-4, 6-3)

Last Week: Senior quarterback Darrel Colbert capped off a game-winning 86-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 2:04 remaining in the game as Lamar pulled off a 21-17 upset on the road over No. 21 McNeese (6-5, 5-4). The Cardinals gained 448 total yards of offense against the vaunting Cowboys defense led by Colbert who completed 9-of-14 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown while adding 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries. Case Robinson caught two passes for 80 yards and a touchdown to lead the Cardinals receivers. Davon Jernigan recorded eight tackles and an interception to lead the Lamar defense. Lane Taylor also registered eight tackles for the Cardinals. 

The Verdict: The Cardinals earned their first at-large bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs in program history. Lamar earned one of the final bids to the playoffs with a regular season ending six-game winning streak. The Cardinals will be a difficult challenge for any team in the playoffs as they enter beaming with confidence. Lamar had to overcome many injuries early in the season as they have steadily improved this season under second year head coach Mike Schultz. 

This Week: Lamar travels to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to play Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA FCS playoffs Saturday at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Abilene Christian Wildcats (6-5, 5-4)

Last week: An unexpected defensive battle broke out between two high-powered offenses last Saturday as ACU dropped their final game of the regular season 16-7 at home to Central Arkansas (6-5, 5-4). The Bears scored a touchdown with 2:47 remaining in the game to seal the victory. Luke Anthony completed 23-of-39 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Wildcats struggled to run the ball all game as they only gained six rushing yards in the contest. Jackie Harvell had an outstanding game for the defense as he recorded seven tackles with two tackles for loss, one sack, and a forced fumble. The Wildcats only allowed 292 total yards to the Bears while the Bears had over 37 minutes time of possession.

The Verdict: This is a disappointing loss for the Wildcats and not how they wanted to end their season after four straight wins. ACU being disappointed with this loss is proof of how improved this team is this year. They won a NCAA DI program record six games this season in only head coach Adam Dorrell’s second season. The Wildcats are a very young team this season and will enter next year with higher expectations.

This Week: The Wildcats have concluded the regular season.

Sam Houston State Bearkats (6-5, 5-4)

Last Week: SHSU broke a two-game losing streak as they finished the regular season with a 42-20 win on the road over Houston Baptist (1-10, 0-9). Dee Bowens led the Bearkats offense as he gained 133 yards receiving and two touchdowns on six receptions while Nathan Stewart added seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Ty Brock completed 19-of-32 passes for 251 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ernest Harris led the Bearkats defense has he registered 12 tackles while also forcing and recovering a fumble. Zyon McCollum intercepted two passes in the game and returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown in the decisive second quarter.

The Verdict: This year did not meet the Bearkats high expectations as they entered the season No. 4 in the preseason national rankings. Injuries played a big role in the season being a disappointment along with the offense struggling with many new players seeing their first playing time at key positions. The Bearkats also had a couple key players transfer early in the season which tested the depth of the roster. Do not expect the struggles to continue long for the Bearkats as they have a long track record of success.

This Week: SHSU have concluded the regular season. 

Prairie View A&M Panthers (4-6, 3-3)

Last Week: PVAMU offense rolled up 673 total yards and scored touchdowns on eight of their first nine possessions last Saturday as they won 66-13 at home over Alabama State (3-7, 2-4). Jalen Morton was outstanding for the Panthers offense as he completed 16-of-30 passes for 290 yards with four touchdowns and an interception while adding 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Dawonya Tucker added 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 19 carries while also catching two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown. Markcus Hardy led all receivers with three receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown while Tristen Wallace also added a receiving touchdown. Quinton Bell and Isaac Claiborne each recorded eight tackles to lead the PVAMU defense.

The Verdict: The Panthers found their offensive fire power this week as they broke a three-game losing streak. The 66 points the Panthers scored was more points than the PVAMU offense had scored in the last four games. This is the first time since 1951 the Panthers have scored more than 60 points in a game as they defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff 62-13 earlier this season. PVAMU will have an opportunity to finish the season on a two-game win streak as they host conference rival Texas Southern this week.

This Week: PVAMU will host Texas Southern (2-8, 1-5) Saturday at 1 p.m. to close out the regular season.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (2-8, 2-7)

Last Week: A 28-point second half was too much for SFA to overcome as they closed the regular season with a 35-23 loss at home to Northwestern State (5-6, 4-5) in the Battle for Chief Caddo. Foster Sawyer completed 30-of-50 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown to lead the Lumberjacks offense. Terian Goree was outstanding as he led all receivers with 138 yards on 10 receptions while Tamrick Pace contributed 128 receiving yards and a touchdown on eight catches and Remi Simmons recorded 10 receptions for 97 yards. Ryan Woods led the Lumberjacks defense as he recorded 13 tackles and Quin Jones added 11 tackles. Alize Ward, Aretavious Hendrix, and Anthony Jacobs each recorded an interception for SFA.

The Verdict: A tough season came to an end for SFA last Saturday as the school announced a nationwide search for a new head football coach. Interim head coach Jeff Byrd took over the football program in June after former head coach Clint Conque was suspended and ultimately fired in August. Byrd did a good job in a difficult situation as he also served as the defensive coordinator. The Lumberjacks are looking for a head coach to turn around a program that has not had a winning season since 2014.

This Week: SFA have concluded the regular season.

Texas Southern Tigers (2-7, 1-4)

Last Week: TSU struggled to score in the red zone last Saturday as they lost 15-10 to Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-9, 1-6) in their final regular season home game. Glen Cuiellette completed 20-of-41 passes for 307 yards while adding 34 yards rushing and a touchdown on five carries. Bobby Hartzog had a great game as he led all receivers with 185 yards on 13 receptions. Jul Marcantel was the star for the Tigers defense as he recorded 12 tackles including one-half tackle for a loss. The Tigers were unable to score in the second half as the Golden Lions scored the final nine points in the game. 

The Verdict: The Tigers have now lost two straight games and will need to find some offense this week if they are to avoid a season ending three-game skid. The TSU defense has been solid for the Tigers this season and will need a stellar performance this week as they face the potent offense of their rival Prairie View A&M. 

This Week: TSU close the regular season Saturday as they face rival Prairie View A&M on the road at 2 p.m.

Houston Baptist Huskies (1-10, 0-9)

Last Week: 21 unanswered points in the second quarter proved to be the difference last Saturday as HBU ended the regular season with a 42-20 loss at home to Sam Houston State (6-5, 5-4). The Huskies gained 506 total yards of offense on the Bearkats as LaDarius Dickens gained 121 rushing yards on 15 carries. Dreshawn Minnieweather added 105 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries for the Huskies rushing attack that gained 287 total rushing yards in the game. Bailey Zappe struggled in the passing attack as he completed 17-of-35 passes for 219 yards and two interceptions. Brennan Young had a remarkable game for the Huskies defense as he registered 10 solo tackles including four tackles for a loss and a sack. Caleb Johnson and Jack Blanco each added 10 tackles for HBU.

The Verdict: This season has been a struggle for a Houston Baptist team that was hoping to see improvement over last season’s 1-10 record. However, the improvement never materialized for the Huskies as they lost 10 straight games to finish the season. HBU had a young team this season with under classmen in most of the team’s key positions. The Huskies hope the experience the young players gained this year will result in more wins next season for head coach Vic Shealy.

This Week: HBU has concluded the regular season.


No. 6 Tarleton State Texans (11-0, 8-0)

Last Week: Tarleton State dominated No. 24 Azusa Pacific (8-4, 7-1) from the opening kickoff last Saturday as they earned a dominating 58-0 victory in the first round of the NCAA DII playoffs. The Texans were led by Xavier Turner who gained 206 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 23 carries as Turner set new school playoff records in each rushing category. Ben Holmes was also outstanding as he completed 13-of-17 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns while Zimari Manning led all receivers with five receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans offense set new team playoff records as they totaled 579 yards of total offense and 335 total yards of rushing offense. The Texans defense was also dominate and set multiple new team playoff records as they held the Cougars to 217 total yards of offense and only one-yard rushing in the game. The Texans defense was led by Prince Robinson who recorded eight tackles, forced a fumble, and intercepted a pass.

The Verdict: The Texans continue to reach new heights for the football program this season. The 11 wins equal the best start to a season in school history and ties the school record for the longest winning streak. Tarleton State will now host their second playoff game in their program history next week as they have a rematch with the defending national champion and Lone Star Conference rival Texas A&M-Commerce. The Texans won the first meeting 47-21 on Oct. 13 in Commerce, Texas. The Texans will try to earn the opportunity to play in their first regional final with a win this week.

This Week: Tarleton State will host No. 15 Texas A&M-Commerce (10-2, 7-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the NCAA DII regional quarterfinals.

Angelo State Rams (6-5, 4-4)

Last Week: Angelo State did not have a game scheduled last week.

The Verdict: The Rams new head coach Jeff Girsch will now have three extra weeks of practice with his young team as they accepted a bid to play in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl. ASU also appeared in the Heart of Texas Bowl game last season where they were defeated 41-25 by Washburn. With a win the Rams will secure their seventh win of the season which would be the most wins for the Rams since 2015. Angelo State made a good choice to play in the bowl game as they have a young team on both sides of the ball and can use this extra practice to jump start a possible run for the Lone Star Conference title next season.

This Week: ASU will play Central Oklahoma (7-4, 7-4) in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl at Waco I.S.D. Stadium in Waco, Texas at 4:05 p.m. on Dec. 1.


No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (11-0, 9-0)

Last Week: The UMHB defense intercepted four passes and held the potent Hardin-Simmons (9-2, 8-1) offense to 315 total yards as the Cru scored a 27-6 win in the first round of the NCAA DIII playoffs. De Jackson led the Cru defense with two interceptions while Keith Gipson added an interception and Reginald Cole returned an interception 88 yards for a key touchdown in the second quarter. Jase Hammack completed 10-of-14 passes for 125 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Markeith Miller added 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on 27 carries while Aaron Sims led all receivers with 62 yards and a touchdown on two receptions. Anthony Avila was key for the Cru as he made field goals from 32 and 37 yards. 

The Verdict: The Cru continued their march to the NCAA DIII national championship game with a win over the toughest opponent of any team in the first round. The Cru will host the second-round game this week and will most likely host each game until the national championship if they continue winning. UMHB will face a Berry team this week that was the champion of the Southern Athletic Association. The only loss for Berry this season was to Trinity (Tex.) in the final game of the regular season.

This Week: UMHB will host No. 18 Berry (10-1, 7-1) Saturday at noon in the second round of the NCAA DIII playoffs. 

No. 7 Hardin-Simmons Cowboys (9-2, 8-1)

Last Week: Four turnovers proved costly for HSU as they fell 27-6 to No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0, 9-0) in the first round of the NCAA DIII playoffs last Saturday. The Cowboys held UMHB to only 237 total yards in the game led by Chris Miller who registered nine tackles including two tackles for a loss and an interception. Bryson Hammonds led the offense as he gained 125 yards rushing and a touchdown on 31 carries while also completing 3-of-3 passes for 13 yards. Ty Hooper completed 17-of-29 passes for 134 yards with four interceptions. Reese Childress led the Cowboys receivers as he caught seven passes for 50 yards while Kevi Evans added 45 yards on six receptions.

The Verdict: A great season came to tough end for the Cowboys. Hardin-Simmons averaged 48 points a game and 526 total yards of offense per game as their only two losses were to conference rival UMHB. A season ending injury to All-American Jaquan Hemphill could have derailed the Cowboys, but sophomore Bryson Hammonds stepped in and performed admirably for HSU. The Cowboys lose many valuable seniors this season, but they will reload and be a force to be reckoned with next year. This year’s senior class is the first class to reach the NCAA DIII playoffs in four straight seasons.

This Week: HSU season has concluded.


No. 4 Kilgore Rangers (9-2, 5-2)

Last Week: Kilgore did not have a game scheduled last week.

The Verdict: The Rangers have now won seven straight games and have been dominating over the last few weeks outscoring opponents 309-119 during their seven-game stretch. Kilgore will play in the TIPS-C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl in Waco, Texas on Dec. 1 which is a nice reward for the Southwest Junior College Football Conference champions. The Rangers will meet a good Pima team that may not be ready for the hottest team in the NJCAA. 

This Week: Kilgore will play No. 20 Pima (6-3, 4-2) in the TIPS-C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl at Waco ISD Stadium in Waco, Texas at 11 a.m. Dec. 1.

Blinn Buccaneers (6-4, 4-3)

Last Week: Blinn College did not have a game scheduled last week.

The Verdict: The Buccaneers accepted a bid to play in the Valley of the Sun Bowl on Dec. 1. This is a nice reward for Blinn as they won four straight games to open the season and five of their first six games before an injury to their starting quarterback led to the offense struggling for a couple weeks. The Buccaneers will gain three extra weeks of practice to not only prepare for this bowl game but will provide an opportunity to begin preparations for next season.

This Week: Blinn College will play No. 14 Scottsdale (7-3, 4-3) in the Valley of the Sun Bowl at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Ariz. at 1 p.m. Dec. 1.

Navarro Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3)

Last Week: Navarro did not have a game scheduled last week.

The Verdict: The Bulldogs earned a bid to play in the Salt City Bowl despite the ending to their game in the SWJCFC semi-finals. Navarro won three straight games and four of five game before their 45-14 setback to red hot Kilgore in the semi-finals. The Bulldogs will be an underdog in their game against Hutchinson but will have an opportunity to show the strength of the SWJCFC with a victory. Navarro will also be able to use this extra practice time to prepare for next season.

This Week: Navarro College will play No. 13 Hutchinson (8-3, 6-1) in the Salt City Bowl at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson, Kan. at 1 p.m. Dec. 1.

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