Mav Watch, November 19, 2016

No. 24 Colorado Mesa (9-2) at No. 8 Texas A&M Commerce (9-1)

NCAA Division II Super Region Four Playoffs

1 p.m. today, Memorial Stadium, Commerce, Texas

Radio: KTMM (101.1-FM, 1340-AM), Video streaming, live stats:

Last week: Colorado Mesa 33, Azusa Pacific 24; Texas A&M Commerce 30, Tarleton State 10

Last meeting/series record: First meeting

Keys to the game

Turnovers: The Lions are the best team in the nation when it comes to creating turnovers, with 21 more than their opponents. “They do a great job of creating turnovers and taking care of the football, but also I think one thing we do a great job of is taking care of the football. They’re going to be a very, very good football team, but we’re a very good football team,” CMU coach Russ Martin said.

Special teams: Why not? It’s not only blocking kicks, though: Commerce is seventh in the nation in punt returns (18.1 per return) and is second in kickoff defense, allowing only 12.5 yards per return.  Mesa averages 21 yards on kickoff returns and allows 22.5, and but gives up only 1.4 yards on punt returns, averaging 15.3, with Josh Brown returning two for TDs. “This is probably one of the better special teams units we’ve seen in effort and speed and guys flying around,” said Riley Newcomer, one of the Mavs’ special teams co-coordinators. “It’s going to be a challenge. We’ve been solid all year in special teams, but when it comes to the playoffs…”

Start fast, finish strong: The Mav tempo offense and opening up the playbook last week has helped the offense get into a rhythm and take control of games early, and CMU is no stranger when it comes to fantastic finishes. “Our guys have been in some games where we’ve blown people out, we’ve been in some games we’ve suffered a loss,” Martin said. “But we’ve been in a lot of games that it’s close, and when it’s close, we find a way to win.”

Heart: For the seniors, it’s the culmination of five years of building from the ground up, and for the players who grew up in Grand Junction, it’s even more special. “We’ve been coming to Mesa games our whole lives and I honestly can’t remember the last time Mesa was in the playoffs,” said safety Colby Dixon, who, along with linebacker Cody Daniels, played at Fruita Monument. “2003? 2007? Oh, yeah, that was a long time ago. My mom (Carrie Heckel Dixon, basketball) played here, his mom (Kathy Holthus Daniels, volleyball) played here, so it’s definitely cool to carry on that legacy.”

“I still believe the strength of this football team is in the heart and the spirit of this team,” Martin said. “They find ways to get things done.”

Did you know? The Lions are the No. 4 seed, the Mavericks No. 5 in Super Region Four. ... Martin said more than a dozen players were held out of practice this week in hopes they could heal up in time to play. Sophomore quarterback Eystin Salum, injured two weeks ago, is not listed on this week’s depth chart. Senior Aric Kaiser will back up Sean Rubalcaba. ... Both teams won their respective conference titles, Commerce its third straight Lone Star crown. CMU won its 11th RMAC championship. ... Commerce lists its record as 10-1 overall, but the Lions’ first game of the season, against the University of Faith (Florida), a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Union, is not recognized by the NCAA. Stats from that game, a 62-0 Commerce rout, do not count, but the game, a last-minute addition, can be counted in the school’s win total. The NCAA bracket lists Commerce’s record as 9-1. ... This is only the third time in the Division II era CMU has played in the state of Texas; the Mavericks are 0-2 in the Lone Star state, losing to West Texas A&M in 2006 and to Abilene Christian in the 2007 playoffs. This is only the second time in Commerce’s history the Lions have played an RMAC school, defeating Adams State last season. ... Mesa had a large travel party on the charter flight, including players, coaches and cheerleaders. Only 58 players are allowed to suit up, two fewer than RMAC travel squads. Additional players traveled in case game-day decisions were made to accommodate injuries. The lineup can be changed up to 10 minutes before kickoff, Martin said. The Mavericks also took administrators, team physicians and members of the media. ... Commerce coach Colby Carthel, in his fourth season, is fifth in all-time wins at the school with 34. Martin is also fifth at CMU, with a 34-21 record in five seasons. Joe Ramunno won 80 games in 14 seasons, Bob Cortese 78 in 10 and Bus Bergman 78 in 16.

Martin-izing: “You watch their offensive line, they scare the crap out of you. They are big and they’re physical. There are times you see their running backs break off a 30-yard run and all of a sudden the first guy there is one of their big offensive linemen.”

— Patti Arnold


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