By CHARLIE CHITWOOD
My Saturday work up in Hunt County with the Texas A&M-Commerce Lions has been pretty rewarding of late but this past weekend, all eyes were first on Wichita Falls, then on Denton as it took two days and two stadiums in two towns 100 miles apart to determine the winner of the biggest regular-season game of the year.
A casual fan would find it interesting that the closest rivalry of the past five Lone Star Conference seasons is among the bitterest – think Texas and OU (which has a hand in this story). In the Lions’ National Championship Season of 2017, it was only Midwestern State that put a number in A&M-Commerce’ loss column. Midwestern won the LSC, the Lions went on to the Natty…. And you can see where there might be a few hard feelings.
Each of the previous 5 contests were decided by 5 or fewer points. In two of the previous three meetings, Midwestern staged double-digit fourth-quarter rallies to knock off the Lions. Last year, the Commerce lads rallied from a THREE touchdown deficit before missing a last-play touchdown pass that left the score MSU 47, A&M-C 42.
Saturday’s drive was pretty golden. Listen to Craig Way call Texas-OU, enjoy some sunchine, get into the hotel ahead of the stadium and then, immediately after the coin toss and the captains of both teams shook hands, the lightning meter went off and we had to wait an hour to start.
The ninth-ranked Lions and fourth-ranked Mustangs battled to a sopping 10-10 halftime tie before a sea of umbrellas. When the lightning meter went into rapid-fire mode, the game’s conclusion was suddenly in doubt.
First, a 2 p.m. Sunday kick was announced. Mother nature was steadily nixing that though and to make matters worse, there wasn’t a hotel within 90 miles that had more than six rooms for any unexpected college football team to descend upon at 1 a.m.
So the game’s cancelled. The Lions head back to Commerce and by 2 a.m., they find out they’re playing after all – at 2 p.m. in a vacant Apogee Stadium on the campus of the University of North Texas. The Mean Green gave way to LionU and MSU’s “Stang Gang.”
The game resumed and both teams traded big plays and even occasional gaffes. Midwestern got ahead 17-10 in the third, but a Lion field goal and a 98-yard touchdown drive made it 20-17, Commerce. Midwestern had a field goal blocked, but then a horrible punt snap sailed 30 yards behind the Lions kicker and turned into a Midwestern safety with around 5 minutes to play.
The Lions All-American kicker, a Dreamer from the Rio Grande Valley, had already established a new LSC record for most career field goals. Now, the 5-6, 135-pounder needed to pin Midwestern deep to prevent much of a return. So he kicked it 76 over their heads and bounced through the back of the end zone.
MSU was able to drive quickly down field in the game’s final minute. Still trailing 20-19, they needed only a field goal to steal away yet another game. Midwestern’s place kicker got his chance on the last play of the game – and missed it wide right.
Tell me what there isn’t to like about college football, and I’ll show the game film on this one. What a dandy. And what an escape. Oddly enough, the Lions’ winless streak over Midwestern in Wichita Falls remains unchanged – their last win there was in 1998. This one started out there but ended up in a whole ‘nuther place.
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