After suffering a 38-24 defeat at the hands of FCS opponent Sam Houston State last weekend, the Texas A&M University-Commerce football team now sets its sights on a game with NCAA Playoff implications when they face Angelo State for the second time this season in round one of the Lone Star Conference Playoff at 3 p.m. on Saturday in Commerce.
The no. 12-ranked Lions (7-2, 6-0 LSC) come into the first round as the no. 1 seed after winning the 22nd Conference Championship in program history, and their second in as many years. The Rams (6-3, 3-3 LSC) come in as the no. 4 seed after a coin flip was used to decide the 3-4-5 seeds, as all three teams had identical conference records, as well as a victory over each other. Head Coach Colby Carthel says that even though it came down to a coin flip, any opponent they would’ve faced would be a challenge.
“It doesn’t matter who we could play,” Carthel said. “Our boys are excited, we know that if we win the ballgame, we could be in the NCAA Playoffs.”
A win a Saturday could be enough to secure a postseason spot, as Carthel’s team heads into the contest with the no. 2 ranking in Super Region Four, with the top seven teams making it into the big show.
A&M-Commerce and Angelo State have had hotly contested meetings in recent years, with the last five matchups being decided by a combined 12 points. Last season, the Lions managed to get the upper hand against the Rams with a narrow 41-40 victory in San Angelo, but fell later in the year in game two of the LSC Playoffs by a score of 33-35 in Commerce.
This season, ESPN was on hand at Memorial Stadium for what was dubbed as their DII Game of the Week, as then-no. 15 A&M-Commerce squared off against then-no. 16 Angelo State. The Lions had as much as a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter until the Rams came charging back to cut the lead just three. A long drive, which featured a key first down by Richard Cooper, stopped the comeback cold, and sealed the victory.
A&M-Commerce will look to avoid a repeat of last year’s outcome, but will be hard pressed to stop the high-powered squad from Angelo State.
Led by senior quarterback Kyle Washington, the Rams feature the most prolific offense in the nation, averaging 560.2 yards per game. Washington provides a big chunk of the yardage, also leading the nation in total offense with a 409.7 yards per game average. Washington holds many school records, including being the first Angelo State quarterback in school history to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season, as well as racking up 73 career passing touchdowns.
Offense isn’t the only strength of the Rams, as they also have the second-ranked defense in the LSC. Led by a fierce pass rush, Angelo State has tallied 25 sacks on the season to lead the conference. Senior defensive lineman Clayton Callicutt sits at no. 5 in the nation with 11 on the year, and has tied the school record with 31 career quarterback drops.
Coach Carthel knows that the Rams will be going all out in this game in the hopes to win their second straight LSC Playoff Championship, and recognizes Washington as the “unstoppable force” that Angelo State fans have come to expect him to be.
“They’ve really let Washington loose these last two games,” Carthel said. “Our key to winning is going to be trying to limit and contain him. Not stop him, but contain him.”
The Lone Star Conference Playoff is a four-team tournament that is not part of the NCAA Playoffs. The outcome of the games will affect the overall records of each team, but Conference records will be unaffected. The winner of Saturday’s game will face the winner of the Midwestern State-Eastern New Mexico game on November 14.