HOW IT HAPPENED
The Lions began the game with the ball, and a 53-yard completion from Smalls to Chance Cooper (Leander – Rouse) jumpstarted the action, as the Lions were quickly deep in Oredigger territory. The drive stalled from there, and a Jake Viquez (Rockwall) kick was blocked to keep the game scoreless.
After the teams traded punts, Mines had its first sustained drive of the day. A pair of chunk plays led the Orediggers into the red zone. However, the Lion defense clamped down, holding Mines to a field goal.
On the ensuing drive, a Lion receiver lost his footing and Smalls floated a pass that was intercepted. Going the other way, Mines quarterback Jon Matocha hit a long pass that looked destined for six points. However, Dawson would not have it, chasing down the Oredigger receiver and poking the ball out from behind. Edwards-Cooper recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Lions the ball. Smalls then began to use his legs, rushing for 11 yards to pick up a first down. Smalls then kept the ball on a read-option and outraced all the defenders down the right sideline, extending the ball into the pylon to give the Lions a 7-3 lead with one second left in the first quarter.
After the teams traded punts to begin the second quarter, the Orediggers again put a drive together, driving inside the Lion 5-yardline. The next play was a handoff, which was sniffed out by Edwards-Cooper. He put his hat on the ball, jostling it loose, with the Lions recovering to keep the Orediggers off the board once again.
The teams traded punts once again in the final minute before another Lion defensive turnover gave the Lion the ball at the 50 with 40 seconds left. Hodge caused the fumble, which was recovered by Collins. The Lions drove into field goal range but a penalty took them out of range and ended the half.
Smalls had 132 yards passing and another 108 yards on the ground in the first half. The Lion defense forced and recovered three fumbles, two of which happened in the red zone, and Cooper had 64 yards receiving in the first half.
The Lion defense came up big right off the bat in the third quarter, earning another sack to force a Mines punt to open play. The Oredigger defense returned serve, stripping Stokes on the sideline to get their second turnover of the game. The Lions were not deterred, holding the Orediggers on a fourth down attempt to get the ball right back.
The Lions then began to drive, as Ryan Stokes (St. Louis, Mo.) had a catch and run of 22 yards to get the Lions on the Oredigger side of the field. After three plays failed to pick up the first down, the Lions brought out the field goal unit. However, Wheeler took the snap and decided to throw, finding a wide open Guice for a walk-in touchdown. The Lions took a 13-3 lead with 8:06 left in the third quarter after a blocked extra point.
The Lion defensive front continued its pursuit of the quarterback, getting consecutive sacks, including a strip sack from Searcy, which the Lions recovered inside the red zone. A pass to Kelan Smith (Dallas – First Baptist) got A&M-Commerce close to the end zone, and Williams did the rest, waltzing into the end zone untouched to push the Lion lead to 20-3 at the end of the third quarter.
Mines was looking to climb back into the game and put together a drive early in the fourth quarter, including a 30-yard pass completion to drive into the red zone. The Lion defense again showed its moxie, holding on four consecutive plays. Collins and Beamon converged on fourth down to get another sack, giving the Lions the ball back once again on downs.
The Lions put together another grinding drive, including a 40-yard run from Spencer Long (Mont Belvieu – Barbers Hill). Wheeler had another fourth-down conversion, hitting Joe Butler (San Antonio – Sam Houston) to push further into Oredigger territory. Viquez punched the ball through the uprights, giving the Lions a 23-3 lead. The Lion defense held for the final time, conceding no ground to the Orediggers, and the Lions left with the playoff win.
INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
– The Lion defense had 10 sacks in the game, tying a NCAA Division II Playoff record. Elijah Earls (San Antonio – Stevens) had 3.5 sacks, just a half sack shy of tying the DII playoff record. Chris Williams (Atlanta, Ga.), Jaylon Hodge (Houston – Fort Bend Travis), Devin Beamon (North Forney), Mark Brown (Fort Worth – Arlington Heights), Pierre Leonard (Tyler – John Tyler), and Terrell Collins (St. Louis, Mo.) all had sacks.
– The Lions forced five fumbles in the game, recovering four, and also stopped two fourth-down attempts, posting six turnovers forced in the game. L.A. Dawson (Austin – LBJ), Jalon Edwards-Cooper (Spring – Dekaney), Peyton Searcy (Killeen), Hodge, and Leonard all forced fumbles.
– Miklo Smalls (Plano East) had 112 yards rushing and the game’s first touchdown, while also throwing for 201 yards. Jemal Williams (Inglewood, Calif.) also had a rushing touchdown.
– Preston Wheeler (Austin – Bowie) completed both of his passes, including a 34 yard touchdown. His touchdown went to Tyler Guice (Atlanta, Ga.).
– The Lions held Mines 40.5 points under it season scoring average, which ranked seventh in the nation entering the game. The three points scored by the Orediggers marks their lowest point total since the opening week of the 2008 season.