No. 20 Lions to Take On No. 2 Ferris State in Playoff Showdown
After a heartbreaking defeat last weekend at the hands of Midwestern State, the Texas A&M University-Commerce football team will now travel north with their season on the line to face the undefeated Ferris State Bulldogs on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs.
The no. 20 Lions (8-3, 6-0 Lone Star Conference) battled in a game that saw the score tied or the lead changed a total of seven times. With a nine-point lead with less than 7:00 to play, A&M-Commerce seemed to be in the driver’s seat. However, the Mustangs (10-1, 5-1 LSC) would not go down quietly, and scored after gaining possession on a Lion fumble, and then returning an interception for a touchdown on the first play of the ensuing A&M-Commerce drive, resulting in two touchdowns in 15 seconds of game time.
The lead proved to be insurmountable, as the Lions fell to Midwestern State by a score of 33-37, being defeated in the championship round of the LSC playoff for the second straight year. Head Coach Colby Carthel knows that a win would have almost certainly guaranteed a home playoff game for A&M-Commerce.
“We were pretty disappointed with how we played in the last six and a half minutes of that game,” Carthel said. “We missed a golden opportunity to bring the playoffs to Commerce, Texas.”
With the regular season finished, the Lions then waited to hear their postseason fate. They found out the following day, when it was revealed the A&M-Commerce would be ranked no. 7 in NCAA Super Region Four, securing its first playoff berth since 1995. Carthel is excited for his team to prove their mettle on the postseason stage.
“We are all very pumped and excited to get to experience this,” Carthel said. “This kind of thing is what we play for.”
In regards to their opponent, the next competitor to face the Lions comes in the form of Ferris State University. The no. 2 Bulldogs (10-0, 10-0 GLIAC) are coming off of their second consecutive unbeaten regular season, and their second playoff appearance in as many years. Carthel expects this to be one of the toughest challenges that A&M-Commerce has seen in recent years.
“They are ranked in the top five in multiple different national rankings, and they are deserving of that,” Carthel said. “They are led by a couple of outstanding seniors, including their quarterback.”
The quarterback in question is senior Jason Vander Laan. Vander Laan is the current reigning winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the top player in NCAA Division II. Vander Laan is making a case for a second straight trophy with another stellar year. In addition to averaging 223.9 passing yards per game, Vander Laan is also averaging an astounding 131.9 rushing yards per game. Vander Laan has been known as an extremely great runner in his career, racking up 5,730 career rushing yards, which is the most by a quarterback in NCAA history. Carthel knows that containing such a high powered offense will be a challenge.
“We really have to focus on stopping drives,” Carthel said. “They’re going to get a lot of yards, we just need to stop them before they get a chance to score.”
In addition to a top-tier offense, Ferris State also features a stout defense. Led by senior defensive lineman Justin Zimmer and freshman Dylan Roney, the Bulldogs are tied for second in the nation with 35 sacks on the season. Ferris State also features the fifth best rushing defense in the country, allowing an average of 75.9 rushing yards per game.
The game will be played at Top Taggert Field in Big Rapids, Mich., at 11 a.m. The expected high is 34 degrees and there is a 90 percent chance of snow. Fans can listen to the game live on KETR, with pregame coverage starting at 10:30 a.m.