SAN ANGELO – The game was billed as a battle of two of the top defenses in the Lone Star Conference. Saturday’s battle between No. 23 Texas A&M-Commerce and Angelo State lived up to the billing at LeGrand Stadium at 1st Community Credit Union Field.
Lions quarterback Miklo Smalls ran for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter and their defense was able to get key stops in the second half to secure a 17-3 win over the Rams.
“For four quarters our defense was incredible. It was a lock down defense for four quarters and the kids executed the game plan,” Texas A&M-Commerce head coach David Bailiff said. “It was such a field position game and the defense kept getting us out of the short fields.”
“We knew going in that we would have to play really well on offense and there’s times we did, but we just didn’t play well enough,” Angelo State head coach Jeff Girsch said. “I’m proud of the way our guys kept fighting and playing hard.”
“We had our heads in the game,” Lions senior linebacker Neema Behbahani said. “We were locked in every time we took the field and that was something we emphasized throughout the week.”
The game featured the two teams ranked sixth (TAMUC) and seventh (ASU) in the final regular season Super Region Four rankings last Monday afternoon.
The top seven teams in the final rankings earn a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs set to begin next Saturday. The selection show is set for Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ncaa.com.
SECURING A SPOT
Texas A&M-Commerce is almost assured a spot in the playoffs when the selection show airs on Sunday afternoon.
Bailiff is in his first year as head coach of the Lions and his staff and the players have been able to carry on the high expectations of the program.
“I can’t wait, and you do this for the players and the joy on their face when you win. The emotions on that sideline and to know that we’re probably going to the playoffs,” Bailiff said. “I’m thrilled and I meant what I said, if you don’t win nine (games) in Commerce you’re going to get booed.”
“It means everything. All the hard work we put in during the offseason and we just try to get better,” Behbahani said. “Making the playoffs is just the bottom goal, we can’t to keep elevating and go as far as we can.”
The Lions seniors have won a program record 47 games during their four years on campus.
“For these seniors to welcome a new coaching staff and adapt to our coaching styles and adapt to a new language – they’ve done everything we’ve asked and that’s why they’re the winningest bunch in Texas A&M-Commerce history,” Bailiff said.
ON THE BUBBLE
Angelo State will await the selection show and is now firmly on the bubble following this loss. Sioux Falls was directly behind the Rams in the final regular-season regional rankings and could move ahead after a 41-21 win over Wayne State (Neb.) earlier Saturday afternoon.
The Rams are one of four teams at 8-3 along with Sioux Falls, Winona State and Dixie State with only one spot likely available. Girsch believes his Rams should benefit from playing in the tough Lone Star Conference.
“You play in this conference week in and week out you should make the playoffs,” Girsch said. “We saw what happened last year with Midwestern State when they put someone else in and Tarleton won big.
“It’s a matter of what the committee sees and that’s the way it goes. Regardless, I’m proud of these guys.”
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