Small College Preview: No. 21 A&M-Commerce at No. 3 Tarleton, No. 22 Redlands at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor highlight critical week

Tarleton vs. Texas A&M-Commerce (Photo by Karson Land/TAMUC Athletics)

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GAME: Stephen F. Austin (2-9, 2-6) at Northwestern State (3-8, 3-5)

WHEN: Thursday at 6 p.m. at Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches, La.

WHY IT MATTERS: One of the most interesting rivalries is set to renew on Thursday night in the 54th Battle for Chief Caddo. The trophy itself is the biggest traveling trophy in college football.

Chief Caddo stands 7-foot-6 and currently weighs over 320 pounds. He weighed over 400 pounds when he was first built by the SFA students. Naturally, the trophy has a unique story.

The trophy began following the 1961 season when the two rivals decided that the losing school would be responsible for carving the statue. NSU won the game and delivered a 2,000-pound black gum log to SFA.

“That was carved by students here and that thing has gone back and forth between the schools, it’s been stolen by fraternities and there’s all kinds of war stories about the Chief,” SFA head coach Colby Carthel said. “It’s a unique traveling trophy, to say the least. It is a rivalry that runs thick out here in these woods.”

Also unique is the story behind the origination of both Natchitoches and Nacogdoches which of course has two separate stories. The only thing both versions agree on is that an Indian Chief with two sons sent one east, and the other west and they traveled the same distance to establish villages.

“It’s an old Indian folklore story of an Indian chief and his two sons who were Caddo Indians. He sent one of them to (Natchitoches, La.) and one of them to (Nacogdoches, Texas) and that’s how the two towns were named. I don’t know how much is the truth and how much is folklore in that story.”

As for the game on Thursday night, both teams are very similar as they are both in the beginning stages of a rebuilding process with NSU head coach Brad Laird in his second season and Carthel in his first season with the ‘Jacks.

“Coach Laird has done a terrific job,” Carthel said. “He’s a hometown hero and he was an All-American quarterback for them and it’s really a neat situation for him to be able to coach at his alma mater and he’s done a great job recruiting and revitalizing that program.”

SFA has dealt with a bunch of adversity that began before the first game of the season at Baylor. The ‘Jacks had 28 players ruled ineligible due to taking classes they were told to take that was not a part of their degree plan.

“It was no fault of the kids. It wasn’t a deal where the kids were cheating and that’s what’s unfortunate,” Carthel said. “The kids did right and passed the classes they were told to take but the classes weren’t progressing them towards their degree.”

Due to the players ruled ineligible and multiple season-ending injuries, only three players, two on offense and one on defense, who began fall camp as a starter on the two-deep roster remains a starter heading into the final game of the regular season.

“We’ve been a young team without depth, and we haven’t been able to overcome,” Carthel said. “Right now, it’s tough sledding but it’s a fun group to coach.”

Despite the challenges, the future remains very bright for the ‘Jacks under Carthel.

“We are very very confident in our future. I’m not saying that we’re going to win every game or every championship, but we know where we’re headed and it’s going to be a fun ride,” Carthel said. “The steeper the climb, the better the view.”

INSIDE THE STATS: Both teams enter very even statistically speaking, but the Demons have won three of their last four including a huge win on the road over Sam Houston State last week.

“They are playing as good as anybody right now,” Carthel said. “Sam Houston State is as good as anybody in our league and they just beat them.”

SFA enters the game averaging 4.8 yards per play while allowing 5.9 yards per play. NSU has averaged 5.1 yards per play on offense and has allowed 6.0 yards per play this year.

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Northwestern State 32, Stephen F. Austin 30


GAME: No. 21 Texas A&M-Commerce (8-2, 7-1) at No. 3 Tarleton (11-0, 8-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lonn Reisman Athletic Center at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas. First-round NCAA Division II playoff game.

WHY IT MATTERS: The more things change, the more they stay the same. These teams meet in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

This will be the fourth meeting between these long-time Lone Star Conference foes in the last two years and the third straight meeting at Tarleton.

But there are plenty of changes for both teams this season. The most obvious change was the completion of the Lonn Reisman Athletic Center which is a state-of-the-art press box and suites which have changed which side each team stands on during the game.

Texas A&M-Commerce has also had plenty of change as they are playing their first-ever playoff game under first-year head coach David Bailiff.

“It’s going to be a great day. We have a great opponent, a rivalry opponent. Coach Bailiff and those guys are all good friends of ours so it’s a positive all the way around,” Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten said. “I think it’s going to be a great game.

“They’re awfully good. They are just a good, solid football team. I think they’re easily one of the top 10-15 teams in the country and they can beat anybody that plays football in this championship tournament on any given Saturday.”

One area where the Lions have had an edge in every game, they have played in their five straight playoff appearances is in special teams.

“In these big games, special teams are a deciding factor a lot of times. Coach (Jack) Welch has done an unbelievable job with our special teams,” Bailiff said. “Jake Viquez, our kicker, it’s like he has a hand down there. He can kick it right at people who we notice have a hard time catching the ball.

“That’s one area where we try to get a lot of our better players on it and we have a dynamic returner in Dominique Ramsey who has five career punt returns for touchdowns.”

“They have a great special teams unit; they have a great defense and they have a great quarterback in Miklo Smalls who’s been explosive, so they don’t have a weakness,” Whitten said. “We’ve got to go play well in all three phases.”

Tarleton won the first game this year between these teams at home 35-21. The main key in the game was two turnovers by the Lions that led to 14 points for the Texans.

“We cannot have turnovers and we can’t allow them to have big plays. We can’t have turnovers in the red zone,” Bailiff said. “It’s one of those games where whoever the best team is that day is going to win, and you don’t want to be the team that beats itself.”

Every coach will always tell you how difficult it is to beat any team twice in one year and especially a good team.

“That’s the hard part,” Whitten said. “That’s sort of on our shoulders but we have to look at it as another football game where we’re playing one of the best teams in the country and we have to show up with our very best effort to have a chance.

“It’s a unique dynamic to see how they might adjust to a few things and how we might adjust. It was interesting a year ago and it’ll be interesting again.”

INSIDE THE STATS: Often when teams play for the second time in the same season, the game will feature a lower total score and a closer margin of victory.

That was true last year as Tarleton won the first meeting 47-21 but the second game was much closer with the Texans winning 34-28 on the back of a late defensive stand.

Both defenses are solid once again this year as the Lions have only allowed 0.294 points per play and 4.5 yards per play this season while Tarleton has been even better allowing only 0.217 points per play and 3.8 yards per play.

“The two defenses are outstanding, and I think that’ll be one of the huge storylines without question,” Whitten said.

“We’ve played really good defense, and this is a game where if you stop the pass then they’ll run for 300 yards, so we have to play a balanced defense,” Bailiff said.

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Tarleton 35, Texas A&M-Commerce 25



GAME: No. 22 Redlands (9-1, 6-1) at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-0, 9-0)

WHEN: Saturday at noon at Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas.

WHY IT MATTERS: The defense of the title begins this week. UMHB has built a strong national resume with two national titles in the last three years and has appeared in three consecutive national title games.

The Cru ended last season with a 24-16 win over Mount Union in front of the largest crowd since 2001. When this year’s UMHB team watched the selection show last Sunday afternoon, the memories came flooding back.

“We’re just so excited,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said. “I told people that watching the selection show and watching the highlights from last year gave me a lot of emotions and reminded me of the exhilaration from last year and it gave us great memories.”

Seeing the highlights from last year’s title game also had another effect on the legendary coach.

“It really lit a fuse under me,” Fredenburg said.

That may not be good news for Redlands as they enter on Saturday trying to accomplish what only two teams have been able to accomplish since Crusader Stadium opened in 2013, defeat the Cru on their home field.

The last home loss for UMHB was against Linfield in the 2014 NCAA Division III second round.

While the odds may seem long for the Bulldogs, this is not an easy first-round opponent for UMHB. This seems to be a recent trend as this is the second straight season the top-ranked Cru face a nationally ranked opponent in the first round.

“You can look at the bracket and be critical, but the reality is that we just have to line up and win games and play better every week,” Fredenburg said.

The coaching staffs have some familiarity with each other as the teams met in the first round of the 2016 NCAA D-III playoffs with UMHB earning a 50-28 victory.

“The last time we played them in 2016, they jumped out on us 21-14 at halftime so we know we have our hands full. We have to make sure we’re lined up right and play hard,” Fredenburg said. “They do an incredible job of coaching. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaches.”

UMHB has struggled at times this season to score points against solid defensive teams. The Cru will need senior quarterback Jase Hammack to continue to remain solid as they try to make another run in the playoffs. Hammack has thrown 14 touchdown passes and only one interception in 106 attempts over seven games this season.

“The great thing about him is that he has a great presence with the offense. He’s a take-charge kind of guy and we give him a lot of responsibility and he handles it well,” Fredenburg said. “He’s been great for us and we’re blessed to have him and Luke (Poorman) and we feel really good about our quarterbacks.”

INSIDE THE STATS: The main key for the Cru this week will be stopping the dynamic running game of the Redlands. The Bulldogs are averaging 224.3 rushing yards per game led by running backs Mason Carvalho (629 rushing yards), Kai Thompson (538 rushing yards) and quarterback Nathan Martinez (378 rushing yards).

“They do a really nice job of giving you different looks and different formations and they know what they are looking for, so we have to do a good job of lining up right and adjusting to the things that we see,” Fredenburg said.

Stopping the run has been a strength of the UMHB defense this season as they have allowed only 70.3 rushing yards per game. The Cru defense has been outstanding all season allowing only 0.119 points per play and 3.3 yards per play.

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Mary Hardin-Baylor 35, Redlands 23



Incarnate Word 29, No. 11 Central Arkansas 28

Sam Houston State 36, Houston Baptist 26

McNeese 28, Lamar 27

Mississippi State 39, Abilene Christian 19

Arkansas-Pine Bluff 38, Texas Southern 25

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