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Tough Loss Adds To Newly Intensifying Rivalry

The Lions and Mustangs have dominated the Lone Star Conference in recent years.
On the road again? There's a chance the Lions could travel to Midwestern State for a first-round playoff game.

The Javelinas from down in South Texas will always be Texas A&M University-Commerce's traditional rival. And yes, the Rams from down San Angelo way have been kind of pesky of late. The Lions also like to get after Tarleton and WT. But if you're looking for a serious rivalry - one with just a bit of bitterness - look up Highway 82 toward Wichita Falls.

Midwestern State's defeat of A&M-Commerce on Saturday night was a difficult one for Lions fans. The loss means that A&M-Commerce will not host a first-round NCAA playoff game. Instead, the Lions will board a bus or plane for parts unknown. We'll find out in less than 24 hours where next weekend's travel destination will be.

A few Lions fans might have gotten excited when A&M-Commerce took a 30-17 lead over Midwestern State late in the third quarter. Those more familiar with Lone Star Conference football surely did not. Take the horror-movie analogy of your choice for undead beings – vampires, zombies – Midwestern State has proven itself repeatedly to be the opponent that refuses to die. No lead ever feels safe against those guys.

And it wasn’t on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. In the game’s closing minutes, the Lions held a 33-24 advantage, momentum and the football. Then, the undead Mustang burst forth. A fumble near midfield followed by a quick-strike touchdown closed the gap to 33-31. Seconds later, a pick-six interception gave Midwestern State a 37-33 lead. That ended up being the final score.

Since Mustangs head coach Bill Maskill took the helm in Wichita Falls in 2002, Midwestern State has compiled a 111-42 record, including winning records every season. The Mustangs will be making their sixth trip to the NCAA postseason under Maskill. The list of individual honors for Maskill includes LSC Coach of the Year awards in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012. He was also named American Football Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year in 2011.

Had West Texas A&M not shot itself in the foot by running Don Carthel out of Canyon, there might be two veteran head coaches in the LSC whose records of success stand above the rest. But with Carthel no longer leading an LSC program, Maskill is the clear dean of LSC head coaches.

Of course, Don’s son, Lions head coach Colby Carthel, is the young gun of LSC coaches. The younger Carthel has a ways to go before having a career to equal Maskill’s, but he’s bolted out of the gate here in Commerce. One of the worst Division II football programs in the country is now one of the best. Three years of exemplary recruiting, coaching and leadership have combined to create a remarkable renaissance in Northeast Texas. The Lions have won back-to-back LSC titles and are headed for the NCAA playoffs for the first time since the school was named East Texas State.

Midwestern State doesn’t have the history with the Lions that other rivals like A&M-Kingsville or Angelo State have, but be sure, in football, this is a real rivalry. The old guard vs. the newcomers. These teams are not overly fond of one another. This year, the Lions beat Midwestern State to win the LSC title. And the Mustangs beat the Lions to take home-field advantage in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

And the interesting part? These squads might play once again before this season is over. Depending on how the playoff seeding turns out, the Lions might be traveling to Wichita Falls for a first-round playoff game on Nov. 21.

Maybe.  We’ll know by this time Sunday evening. If you can’t make the watch party at The Sam Rayburn Student Center, the Division II Playoff Selection Show begins at 4 p.m. on Nov. 15 at NCAA.org.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.