The Texas A&M University-Commerce Lion football team will fight for its first victory over the Tarleton State Texans since 2017 as they square off in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs on Saturday in Stephenville.
The Texans took the Lone Star Conference Championship and finished the season undefeated at 11-0. The Texans feature one of the most potent offenses in the nation, averaging more than 47 points per game, and are allowing less than 16 points per game defensively.
Senior Ben Holmes has been lights out at quarterback for Tarleton, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,084 yards, 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His top target has been Zimari Manning, who has 1,375 receiving yards, and even more impressively 22 touchdown catches, which is the most in Division II.
Daniel McCants eclipsed the thousand-yard marking on the ground for the Texans, picking up 1,457 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on just 164 carries, good enough for an average of 8.9 yards per attempt. Khalil Banks has added 598 yards and nine scores.
Defensively, Tarleton is led by B.J. Jefferson, who has a team-high 86 tackles, a whopping 24 of which have been for a loss, to go with 7.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. As a team the Texans have 120 tackles for a loss in 11 games.
Tarleton has gotten the better of the Lions in recent meetings, having won the previous three games between the two teams after A&M-Commerce had won the prior six. The Lions hold a 15-14 advantage in the all-time series with the Texans.
A&M-Commerce Head Coach David Bailiff said he was proud of his team for reaching the playoffs in his first season at the helm, and that the defensive clinic put on in the Lions' 17-3 victory over Angelo State last week gives a lot of confidence going into the postseason.
"The defense just dominated, and we will need that against a team like Tarleton," Bailiff said. "But we aren't going to change what we've been doing, we will prepare and practice hard just as with any other game."
A&M-Commerce finished the regular season with an 8-2 record and a 7-1 mark in LSC play. For the Lions, quarterback Miklo Smalls finished the regular season having completed 69 percent of his throws for 2,329 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions, while also running for 247 yards and two scores in his first season with A&M-Commerce. Antonio Lealiiee has been the leading rusher, with 662 yards and six touchdowns on 97 rushing attempts.
Jaylon Hodge leads the team on defense with 10.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Jalon Edwards-Cooper, Kader Kohou and Dominique Ramsey all have interceptions this season.
The game will be held at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas on Nov. 23. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.