West Florida Argonauts (11-3) vs Texas A&M-Commerce Lions (13-1)
Location: Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, KS
Time: 6:00 PM CT, Saturday, December 16th
History: First ever meeting
This Lions team hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but they’re definitely experiencing success that is unprecedented, even within the unprecedented success they were already having under head coach Colby Carthel.
Prior to Carthel arriving in town, the Lions had won five games the previous three seasons, which came on the tails of six straight seasons with either four or five wins. The bar was low.
Carthel crushed it, winning seven, then nine, then eight games in his first three seasons – the Lions ended 2014 ranked 24th in the country, and kept improving all the way to starting last season ranked 9th in the country.
A 10-1 regular season earned TAMC a second straight playoff berth but produced a second round exit.
The Lions lost only one game all season (on the road at Midwestern State. again) and entered the playoffs with a bit of a “yes, but” vibe.
A win on the road at Winona State led to another road matchup against Central Washington and… a 28-7 halftime deficit, behind three interceptions, two punts and a touchdown in six drives. But then the third quarter produced two touchdowns, and the fourth produced another touchdown and two field goals, and before you knew it Luis Perez had guided TAMC to a double-overtime win with 394 passing yards.
They followed that with wins at Minnesota State-Mankato and at home against fellow underdog Harding, and here we are; one win away from Texas A&M-Commerce’s first Division II title and the second-ever title (1972’s NAIA title) after 102 years of existence.
Carthel has now gone 47-15 and had five winning records in five seasons after taking over a program that had one winning season in the previous 15 years. If they win the title I’d be shocked if he isn’t being pursued hard for another job.
West Florida Argonauts
Now here’s the best part; Texas A&M-Commerce is the less interesting story in this matchup, with their unprecedented success under Carthel and a shot at greatness after 100+ years of program building.
The Lions played the first game in the history of their program roughly 37,350 days ago; the Argonauts of West Florida are playing for a Division II National Championship with a football team that played their first ever game 468 days ago.
September 3rd, 2016 was the first time UWF fielded an NCAA Division II football team for live, competitive action. On December 16th, 2017 they will wake up one win away from a national championship.
I’ve typed it numerous times and it still feels weird.
Aside from that, this 2017 season by itself has been magical. The Argonauts needed to finish this season with a win on the road against then-24th-ranked West Georgia, which pushed their overall record to 7-3 and got them into the playoffs via the back door.
What they’ve done since has been even more impressive. Starting redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Beaudry has taken off. After completing 54.5 percent of his passes with a 16:7 touchdown to interception ratio in nine regular season games, Beaudry has completed 60.3% of his passes and finally had consecutive interception-free performances coming into this title game.
Most impressive by Beaudry was surviving a four-interception performance against West Georgia to engineer fourth-quarter scoring drives that turned a 14-7 deficit into a 17-14 win. The team has won five consecutive true road games to get to this title game, with four of those five games coming against teams ranked in the top 20 and two of those games being rematches against divisional opponents.
I absolutely do not care who wins, because I’m so fascinated by this matchup. One team is exponentially more experienced, but neither team has been in this situation before. Therefore, I will quietly root for the team that lives an hour away from be because why not?
West Florida 28, Texas A&M-Commerce 24