A&M-C defense celebrates

Texas A&M University-Commerce’s defense celebrates a big play during their 23-3 playoff victory last week over Colorado School of Mines. The Lions sacked Mines quarterbacks 10 times. Mounds of snow were cleared off the field before the game at Golden, Colo.

  The No. 7-seeded Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions will look to slay a giant for the third week in a row as they take on undefeated No. 1 seed Minnesota State on the road Saturday.

  The kickoff is set for noon at Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato, Minn. KETR-FM (88.9) will broadcast the game.

  The road-warrior Lions will play in their 10th road football playoff game since 2016, which is more than any other team in NCAA Division II.

  A&M-Commerce reached the third round of the playoffs after an emphatic 23-3 victory last week over Colorado School of Mines, with the defense sacking Mines’ quarterbacks 10 times, tying a playoff record. The win also improved the Lions to a record of 10-2.

  The victory marked the second in a row against an undefeated team following 23-16 victory over Tarleton State in the playoff opener. The Lions will face their third consecutive undefeated team.

  This will be the second time for the Lions to face the Minnesota State Mavericks. A&M-Commerce won the first game between the two teams 31-21 in the third round of the 2017 playoffs en route to the national championship.

  The Mavericks are 12-0 and are coming off of a 35-7 victory last week over Colorado State-Pueblo, a squad that has beaten the Lions two years in a row, including earlier this season.

  Minnesota State has dominated its opponents for much of the season, winning by an average margin of 36.4 points, including a stretch late in the season where the Mavericks won four out of their last five games by more than 50 points. The team’s 47.7 points scored per game is the most in the country.

  Defensively, the Mavericks are allowing just 12 points per game, which is also the best in all of Division II.

  However, the Lions are playing their best defense of the season, allowing just one touchdown across their previous three games.

  Two quarterbacks have shared the load for Minnesota State, as both Ryan Schlichte and J.D. Ekowa have attempted more than 100 passes and have more than 1,000 passing yards on the season. Schlichte has more yards and touchdowns with 1,343 and 15, while Ekowa has 1,136 passing yards and nine scores.

 Nate Gunn is the featured running back, with 1,383 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns this season, which is third in Division II. Multiple other running backs have contributed to an offense that averages more than 300 yards on the ground per game and has scored 46 rushing touchdowns total.

  The defense for the Mavericks, features several ball hawks, as they have intercepted opposing quarterbacks 19 times in 12 games. Cole Schroedermeier leads the team with four picks. Brayden Thomas has been a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line, accumulating nine sacks and 13 tackles for losses this season, both the most on the team.

  Quarterback Miklo Smalls leads the Lions’ offense. The sophomore from Plano East is 223-of-335 passing for 2,279 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 474 yards and three TDs. Smalls passed for 203 yards and ran for 101 yards and a TD in last week’s victory.

  Terrell Collins leads the Lions’ defense with 83 tackles, including 9.5 for losses. Jalon Edwards-Cooper has made 64 tackles to go with three interceptions, Neeman Behbahani has 51 and Elijah Earls has 47 tackles with 14 tackles for losses and 9.5 sacks.

  Last week the Lions played in near freezing temperatures with wind gusts above 30 mph but no snow.

  The weather forecast for Mankato is calling for a high of 38 on Saturday and a low of 30 and a strong wind at 17 mph.

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