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No. 8 Lions shoot for first NCAA National Championship against upstart West Florida


The No. 8 Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions’ football team will take on the second-year program from the University of West Florida on Saturday for a shot at the Lions’ first-ever NCAA Division II Football Championship in front of a nationally televised audience.

WHO: Texas A&M University-Commerce vs. University of West Florida
WHERE: Kansas City, Kan. | Children’s Mercy Park
WHEN: 5 p.m. CST on Saturday, December 16
RECORDS: A&M-Commerce is 13-1 overall. West Florida is 11-3.
RANKINGS: A&M-Commerce is ranked No. 8 in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll and the D2Football.com Media Poll. West Florida is unranked in either poll, but is receiving votes in the AFCA poll.
SEEDINGS: A&M-Commerce is the second seed of the remaining four teams after winning Super Region Four with road wins over No. 12 Winona State, No. 7 Central Washington, and No. 1 Minnesota State. Harding is the third seed of the remaining four teams after winning Super Region Three with road wins over No. 6 Indianapolis, No. 9 Ashland, and No. 10 Ferris State.

• The Lions hosted Harding for the NCAA Division II Football Championship National Semifinal in front of a national television audience and won 31-17.
• The game was played 45 years to the day that the Lions defeated Carson-Newman for the 1972 NAIA National Championship.
• That game was also played in Commerce at Memorial Stadium. The coach of that team was Ernest Hawkins, whose name is now on the field at Memorial Stadium.
• This is the first time the Lions have played four games in a single postseason.

• The Lion football team’s National Championship Game appearance is unprecedented in A&M-Commerce’s tenure in NCAA Division II, which began in 1981.
• Lion Athletics has made 25 total NCAA Tournament appearances in team sports.
• This is led by the women’s soccer program’s eight NCAA appearances.
• Football and men’s basketball are tied with six appearances each.
• Volleyball moved its count to three appearances with their first NCAA trip in 29 years in November. Women’s basketball and softball have each been to the NCAAs once.
• Prior to this season, no Lion team had advanced past the round of eight, though six teams had previously advanced to that national quarterfinal round:
• 1987 Volleyball
• 1990 Football
• 1991 Football
• 1997 Men’s Basketball
• 2007 Women’s Basketball
• 2008 Soccer

• The Lions ended the regular season at No. 8 in the nation in both the AFCA and D2Football.com polls.
• A&M-Commerce has been ranked in 38 straight AFCA polls, dating back to the 2015 preseason poll.
• This is A&M-Commerce’s 44th all-time appearance in the AFCA poll since its inception in 2000.
• The Lions have played five nationally-ranked teams this season, all inside the top 12.
• A&M-Commerce is the sixth nationally-ranked team the Argonauts have faced and the second consecutive top 10 team.

• Head coach Colby Carthel now ranks fifth in A&M-Commerce history in coaching wins with 47 wins.
• However, he will be in fifth for a while, as his 47 wins are still 18 behind J.V. Sikes’ 63 wins in fourth place.

1 Ernest Hawkins 1964-85 132-92-6
2 Eddie Vowell 1986-98 74-71-1
3 Bob Berry 1935-41, 46-50 72-34-8
4 J.V. Sikes 1954-63 63-34-4
5 Colby Carthel 2013-pres. 47-15
6 M.A. Smith 1951-53 30-2-1

• A&M-Commerce now has the longest active winning streak in Division II football, having won nine consecutive contests since the early October loss to Midwestern State.
• The Lions and Argos snapped the two longest previous active streaks in Division II last week. Indiana (Pa.) had won 13 consecutive games and Harding had won 11 straight entering the semifinals.
• The Lions last had a 10-game winning streak in 1958-59 (split 7 in 1958, 3 in 1959).
• East Texas had a 31-game unbeaten streak from 1951-53, going 29-0-2 over two-plus seasons.

• Not surprisingly, as this is UWF’s second year of football, this is the first meeting between the two programs.
• The only meeting in any sport between the two schools came on September 14, 2014, when the unranked A&M-Commerce women’s soccer team upset No. 2 West Florida with a 2-0 shutout in Pensacola. That Lion team would advance to the regional final in the NCAA Tournament.

• These two teams each won four games in the playoffs to reach Kansas City, breaking a long trend of top seeds advancing to the national finals.
• The winner will be the first team to ever win five games in the playoffs for a national title since the bracket expanded to five rounds in 2004. (From 2004-14, the Nos. 1 & 2 seed in each of the four regions received a first round bye. Only the No. 1 seed has received a first round bye since 2015.)
• West Florida became the third team in this 13-year span to qualify for the National Championship Game with four wins on Saturday afternoon. A&M-Commerce was the fourth such team later that evening.
• The previous two were Northwest Missouri State in 2005 and Wayne State (Mich.) in 2011.

• Prior to their home game for the National Semifinals, the Lions won three straight road games, going through the toughest road to a regional title since the NCAA Division II playoff field expanded to five rounds in 2004.
• The Lions defeated three opponents with a combined record of 34-1.
– Winona State (10-1)
– Central Washington (11-0)
– Minnesota State (13-0)
• Only two other teams won a regional championship by defeating three teams with 33 combined wins in a single playoff – Grand Valley State in 2015 (33-1) and Harding this season (33-2).

• 18 teams have won three games to advance to the National Semifinals in the 13 years since the field expanded to five rounds.
• Prior to this season, six teams advanced to the semifinals with no home games in the first three rounds.
• This year, A&M-Commerce, West Florida, and Harding all advanced to the semifinals without the benefit of a home playoff game, pushing that count to nine.

•  Of the 18 teams to advance to the semifinals with three wins, only the 2017 A&M-Commerce Lions and the 2016 Shepherd Rams hosted their semifinal matchup. That Shepherd team was also undefeated until the semifinal loss to North Alabama.

• With the win at Tarleton, the senior class broke the school record for wins in a four-year period. The previous record stood since the Tangerine Bowl runs of the early 1950s.
• That record extended with the National Semifinal victory to 41 games won in a four year span.

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