Small College Preview: SHSU vs. ACU, TLU vs. UMHB highlights action-packed weekend

Texas Lutheran Football (Photo by Russell Wilburn)

GAME: Sam Houston State (5-4, 4-2) at Abilene Christian (5-4, 4-3)

WHEN: Saturday at 3 p.m. at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium in Abilene, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

WHY IT MATTERS: While the FCS playoffs do not begin for another four weeks, every conference game for both of these teams is a playoff game. Both teams are coming off a bye week which came at a good time for the Kats.

“We’ve had five starting quarterbacks and all five have been injured and we lost both of our starting cornerbacks in our last game,” SHSU head coach K.C. Keeler.

ACU presents a challenge for the Kats defense with both Luke Anthony and Sema’J Davis playing quarterback in a system that works for the Wildcats.

“I’m really big on recruiting unselfish guys that are humble and hungry,” ACU head coach Adam Dorrell said. “To do it you have to have two kids that aren’t worried about their statistics and Luke and Sema’J both are super unselfish kids.”

“They play a wildcat with a great athlete that makes you commit an extra guy in the box, and he can throw the ball,” Keeler said. “They are as well-coached of an offensive line as there is in the country and they give you some headaches.”

The Wildcats will need to pay attention to where Nathan Stewart lines up for the Kats.

“You have to know where he is on the field,” Dorrell said. “He’s so dynamic whether he’s running reverses, fly sweeps, screens or just taking off down the field on a fly route.”

INSIDE THE STATS: SHSU coach believes this is the best defense he has ever coached, and the advanced stats back up his claim as the Bearkats are only allowing 0.236 Points Per Play and forcing an incredible 18.5 yards per point.

“The challenge is their defense. Their defense is really good and they’re very athletic on their defensive line,” Dorrell said. “They don’t have to blitz to get pressure and they’re able to play a lot of bump man coverage so that’s a big challenge for us.”

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Sam Houston State 29, Abilene Christian 28

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GAME: No. 21 Angelo State (8-1, 5-1) at Eastern New Mexico (5-4, 3-4)

WHEN: Saturday at 7 p.m. at Al Whitehead at Greyhound Stadium in Portales, N.M.

WHY IT MATTERS: While this looks like a classic trap game for Angelo State, the challenge that the triple-option attack of Eastern New Mexico presents has the attention of the Rams.

“The focus is definitely on Eastern New Mexico and they obviously bring a whole different type of challenges to the game with what they do offensively,” ASU head coach Jeff Girsch said. “We’ve had some great leadership with our upperclassmen.”

ENMU is trying to regain its momentum as the Greyhounds have lost two straight games and three of their last four games after beginning the season 4-1. The Greyhounds have been hurt the last couple of weeks by uncharacteristic turnovers.

“Several of our mistakes have been on special teams right after a score where we’ve had a fumble on a return or a kick bumps into our guy and we give them great field position,” ENMU head coach Kelley Lee said.

ASU knows that possessions will be limited this week against ENMU, but Girsch does not want his team to feel pressure to score on each possession.

“If we get opportunities, we have to score but I don’t want our guys pressing. We just want to execute what we do,” Girsch said.

INSIDE THE STATS: ENMU owns the second-best rushing offense in NCAA D-II averaging 375.1 yards per game led by senior fullback Paul Terry who is second in NCAA D-II with 1,448 rushing yards this season.

However, the strength of ASU is its defense as they have only allowed an incredible 0.180 Points Per Play and forcing 24.1 yards per point.

“At the end of the day, you have to have someone tackle the dive, somebody tackle the quarterback, and someone tackle the pitch,” Girsch said. “We’ll be assignment sound and find out where (Terry) is at because they move him around sometimes.”

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Angelo State 35, Eastern New Mexico 25

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GAME: Texas Lutheran (7-1, 7-0) at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor (8-0, 7-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 1 p.m. at Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas.

WHY IT MATTERS: The stakes in this game could not be higher for either team. The winner of this game will earn at least a share of the American Southwest Conference title and an automatic berth in the NCAA D-III playoffs.

“Everybody in this conference knows that if you want to vie for the conference championship that you have to beat UMHB,” TLU head coach Carl Gustafson said. “In past history, it hasn’t mattered where we play them, we haven’t been very successful.”

The one player that will have a huge spotlight on Saturday is sophomore quarterback Wade Freeman who has completed 64.7 percent of his passes and is second on the Bulldogs team in total rushing yards.

“That’s going to be the challenge,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I don’t know that you can contain him because he’s so dynamic, but we’ve got to run to the ball and not run past him on passes”

“He has done a tremendous job of not just performing on the field but leading the offense. His grasp of the offense and his maturation will be a great story around here for a long time,” Gustafson said. “He’s real humble and his work ethic and humility has rubbed off on our entire team.

INSIDE THE STATS: While the TLU defense and the UMHB offense have been incredible this season, the focus of this game is the Bulldogs offense against the amazing Cru defense.

UMHB has one of the top defenses in the country again this season as they are allowing an average of 0.119 Points Per Play while forcing offenses to move the ball 26.1 yards per point.

“They’ve got a tremendous defense so it’s going to be a big challenge,” Gustafson said. “Our offensive line is going to have to do a great job and open up some holes.”

“They have done an incredible job of coaching and bringing their team along and it’s going to be a huge challenge for our defense,” Fredenburg said.

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Mary Hardin-Baylor 35, Texas Lutheran 19

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GAME: No. 18 New Mexico Military Institute (6-4, 4-4) at No. 20 Navarro College (5-5, 4-4) in the SWJCFC Finals

WHEN: Saturday at 3 p.m. at Tiger Stadium in Corsicana, Texas.

WHY IT MATTERS: Navarro is making its league-high 11th appearance in the SWJCFC championship game. However, this is the first appearance in the title game for the Bulldogs since 2015.

The Bulldogs earned their spot in the finals with a thrilling 26-24 victory over then No. 8 Trinity Valley Community College when Quentin Lee caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Parker McNeil with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

New Mexico Military Institute is making its first-ever appearance in the SWJCFC title game after pulling off a shocking 20-10 upset on the road over then No. 3 Kilgore.

The Broncos have won three straight games and pulled off the upset last week despite being outgained 444-164 in total yards and only forced one fumble. However, that turnover was returned 75 yards for the game-winning score.

INSIDE THE STATS: The matchup to watch in this game is the Navarro passing offense against the NMMI secondary. The Bulldogs are averaging 363 passing yards per game behind quarterback Parker McNeil who recently committed to play at Troy next season.

NMMI has been led by its defense all season as they have only allowed 189.5 passing yards per game this season and 24.5 points per game.

MY PICK: Navarro by 7

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OTHER SMALL COLLEGE GAMES:

Nicholls 33, Houston Baptist 30

Incarnate Word 32, Stephen F. Austin 30

Lamar 31, Northwestern State 30

Alabama State 31, Texas Southern 26

Prairie View A&M 34, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 29

No. 4 Tarleton 42, William Jewell 20

Midwestern State 36, Western New Mexico 27

West Texas A&M 32, Texas A&M-Kingsville 29

No. 24 Texas A&M-Commerce 37, UT Permian Basin 22

Belhaven 28, Sul Ross State 22

Southwestern 35, Howard Payne 24

McMurry 33, Louisiana College 31

No. 14 Hardin-Simmons 37, East Texas Baptist 26

Austin College 29, Rhodes 19

Trinity 28, Birmingham Southern 25

Oklahoma Panhandle State by 10 over Southwestern Assemblies of God

No. 22 Langston by 35 over Texas College

Wayland Baptist by 3 over Texas Wesleyan

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