Small College Preview: No. 21 TAMUC faces another daunting road game; No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor with tricky test

Courtesy of Texas A&M-Commerce Football

GAME: No. 21 Texas A&M-Commerce (9-2) at No. 7 Colorado School of Mines (12-0)

WHEN: Saturday at 1 p.m. at Marv Kay Stadium at Campbell Field in Golden, Colo. NCAA Division II Second Round playoff game.

WHY IT MATTERS: Texas A&M-Commerce shocked NCAA Division II last week as they did what many felt was near impossible: beat No. 3 Tarleton on the Texans' home field.

The Lions reward for defeating their rival? A trip to snow-covered Golden, Colo. and a game against another undefeated team in Colorado School of Mines.

This road is nothing new to the Lions as they have appeared in the second round of the DII playoffs for four consecutive years and their first three games were on the road during their 2016 national championship run.

While head coach David Bailiff and some of his players are experiencing the DII playoffs for the first time, there are plenty of returning players leading the way for the new guys.

“This is the expectation. It was just business as usual at practice,” Bailiff said following the Lions win over Tarleton. “We weren’t overly enthused. It was more of a business approach to get better and play the game on Saturday.”

The elevation in Golden, Colo. will also not be unfamiliar to this Lions team as they played at Colorado State-Pueblo earlier this season.

The challenge will be finding a way to slow down another efficient offense. Mines quarterback John Matocha has completed 73.7 percent of his passes this season. His favorite receiver is Josh Johnston who has 901 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

Kader Kohou is likely to get the call to cover Johnston. Kohou met the challenge last week as he held one of the best receivers in the country to 87 yards and no touchdowns on five receptions.

One clear advantage the Lions have this week is in special teams, something they have become accustomed to over the last five years.

Kicker Jake Viquez has made 14-of-19 field goals including 8-of-8 from over 40 yards. His counterpart at Mines, Scott Marshall, has struggled at times as he has made 4-of-8 field goals and is only 1-of-5 on attempts over 30 yards.

However, Marshall did make a 23-yard field goal with three seconds remaining last week to send Mines to a 24-21 win over Sioux Falls.

INSIDE THE STATS: The Lions won a defensive battle last week and they will need to play a high level of defense once again this week.

Mines also brings in a very stingy defense that is based on being in the right position and making the first tackle.

Both defenses are very close statistically heading into this game as the Lions have allowed 0.286 points per play and 4.5 yards per play this season while Mines has only allowed 0.263 points per play and 4.4 yards per play.

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Colorado School of Mines 33, Texas A&M-Commerce 24

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GAME: Huntingdon College (8-3) at No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor (11-0)

WHEN: Saturday at noon at Crusader Stadium in Belton, Texas. NCAA Division III Second Round playoff game.

WHY IT MATTERS: Huntingdon’s playoff hopes seemed to be on life support after the Hawks lost two of its first three games. Not only have the Hawks won seven of their last eight games, but they also went on the road and upset No. 19 Berry 27-24 in a thrilling first-round game last week.

“They’re playing really well and it’s no surprise they beat Berry. They made some plays and it was a heck of a ballgame,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said.

Huntingdon now faces its biggest challenge to date as they travel to play UMHB who has won 26 straight games and 55 of its last 56 games along with two national titles. The Cru has won 41 consecutive games at home.

The Cru earned their way to the second round after a hot first half led to a convincing 43-14 win over No. 22 Redlands last week. Even though the Cru defeated a solid Bulldogs team, they were not happy with their performance.

“The guys were not real satisfied with our play last Saturday and want to do better and I think this week will be a great week for us,” Fredenburg said.

Huntingdon features a balanced offensive attack that has gained 2,279 yards passing and 2,244 yards rushing this season. The Hawks are led by running back Eric Thomas who has 1,079 rushing yards on the season and averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

“He’s a good running back and they do a lot of things to create some angles on their blocks,” Fredenburg said.

The Hawks passing attack is led by quarterback Michael Lambert who has completed 58.2 percent of his passes this year with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“He’s good and he’s consistent,” Fredenburg said. “They do a good job of protecting him and I think we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

UMHB has a distinct advantage in almost every game with their outstanding special teams unit. The Cru is led by American Southwest Conference special teams Player of the Year Anthony Avila at kicker and first-team All-ASC punter Jefferson Fritz.

“(Avila) is really performing well and Jefferson Fritz has also played well,” Fredenburg said. “We’re really pleased with our kicking game.”

The Cru is averaging 201.1 rushing yards per game this season, but they have struggled to find a consistent threat in the rushing game. UMHB has used a running back by committee strategy this season.

The running game has been one of the main areas the Cru has focused on during preparation for their game on Saturday.

“I’m not happy with it at all. In fact, I really want to get our running game (going),” Fredenburg said. “We just haven’t been satisfied with our running game – we need to make some corrections and do a better job.”

INSIDE THE STATS: UMHB has a huge statistical edge with their incredible defense against Huntingdon this week.

The Hawks have allowed 0.400 points and 5.3 yards per play this season while the Cru have been incredibly stingy allowing only 0.127 points per play and 3.4 yards per play this year.

Fredenburg expects his defense to play well this week and is still trying to improve each week.

“We’re really solid on defense and playing really well and we expect them to play even better,” Fredenburg said. “This time of the year you better be playing well.”

COMPUTER PREDICTION: Mary Hardin-Baylor 41, Huntingdon 20

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OTHER SMALL COLLEGE GAMES:

Prairie View A&M 31, Alabama State 27

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