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*** Ignore the University of Faith game, it was a scrimmage scheduled to fill a hole left by the North Alabama cancellation ***
The Lions won their first four games, two in blowout style, one a solid win and one a wild finish that TAMC was able to hold on to get the win. That set up the game that many thought would decide the LSC race. The game was tight through the first three quarters, with MSU holding a 13-12 lead heading into the fourth quarter. It looked like the Lions took control of the game, scoring on three consecutive drives and leading 25-13 with 5:29 to play in the game. But Quade Coward would lead MSU on two long scoring drives and the Mustangs escaped with a 26-25 win in Commerce. The Lions would cruise through their remaining five regular season games, outscoring WNMU, ASU, WTAM, UTPB, and TSU 224-69. TAMC would host an NCAA first round game and cruise to 34-23 win over Colorado Mesa. Grand Valley State would end the season in the second round, blowing out the Lions 55-32.
For the season, TAMC led the LSC in scoring both offensively (39.8) and defensively (21.7). They were second in yards gained (447.3), first in passing yards (299.8) and fifth in rushing yards gained (147.6). Luis Perez was the only LSC quarterback to throw for more than three thousand yards, leading the LSC with 3,326 and 32 TDs. Richard Cooper had 1,004 yards and 7 TDs rushing and Ovie Urevbu had 632 yards and a 6.7 per carry average. Lance Evans and Darby Smith were a potent WR duo, combining for 75 receptions for 1,294 yards and 14 TDs. First team All-LSC honorees were Perez, Cooper, Evans and OT Jared Machorro. Linemen Christian Rodriguez and Jason Osei, TE John Thomas, and Smith were named to the second team, while honorable mention honors went to OL John Aguilar, Poet Thomas and Mark Ellis and TE Chris Chumley.
On the other side of the ball, they allowed 410.2 yards per game (6th), 151.2 rushing (4th) and 259 passing (7th). Tavita Faaiu lead the team with 8 sacks and 12 TFL, Brucks Saathoff was the leading tackler with 68 and Yusef Sterling-Lowe had four interceptions. All-LSC on defense were (first team) Faaiu and Uriah Harris and honorable mentions DLs Mike Onuoha, Kieston Carter and Adam Sagapolu, LBs Cameron Rogers, Saathoff and Hatari Byrd and DBs Sterling-Lowe and Trey Porter.
Special team honorees were RS Shawn Hooks (1st), P Hector Dominguez (1st) PK Kristov Martinez (2nd), DS Austin Jordan (HM).
2017 Outlook - Offense
It all starts with Luis Perez. The senior QB was named the preseason co-LSC offensive player of the year and will likely be a Harlon Hill candidate. Gabriel Rodriguez has experience as the backup. Ovie Urevbu is the top returning rusher, and has Tristen Slaughter and Richard Whitaker (combined 175 yards, 3 TDs) returning as well. Lance Evans and Darby Smith have to be replaced, but D'Arthur Cowan, Justice Luce, and Buck Wilson (combined 107 catches, 1,255 yards, 10 TDs) should be able to pick up the pace. Jared Machoro has also received pre-season notice, named to several All-American teams. He is joined on the line by HM-LSC honorees John Aguilar, Malik Ellis and Poet Thomas. This a senior laden group that should be even better in 2017.
*** Record Watch *** Luis Perez set a single season record last year with 3,326 yards and 32 TDs. He trails Tyrik Rollison by 2,036 yards and James Gray by 19 TDs.
2017 Outlook - Defense
The defense returns a lot of experience all over the field. Michael Onuoha, DD Fletcher, Leon Searcy, Pierre Leonard, Devonta Leary and Josh Reynolds return on the defensive line. Brucks Saathoff, Garrett Blubaugh, Neema Behbahani, and Kieston Carter are back at linebacker. Yusef Sterling-Lowe leads a group of 8 returnees who had double digit tackles last year. All in all the players mentioned above had a combined 580 tackles, 56.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks, 28 QB hurries, with 16 interceptions and 15 passes broken up.
2017 Outlook - Special Teams
Martinez was 55-58 on PATs and 18-24 on FGs, with a long of 46 yards. Punt returner Shawn Hooks averagee 16.8 per return with 3 TDs, while kick returner Buck Wilson averaged 24.2 per kick and both are back. They will have to replace Hector Dominguez who average 40.2 per punt, with 22 punts inside the 20.
2017 Outlook - Non-Conference Schedule
This is could be the top non-conference game of the year in Division II this year. North Alabama is consistently one of the top programs in the nation and was the national runner-up in 2017. This was supposed to be a rematch between the Lions and Lions, but UNA cancelled the contract forcing TAMC to play University of Faith in an exhibition. UNA held a 36.1-14.5 scoring edge and 419.5-312.1 edge in yardage. UNA will have to replace Jacob Tucker, who threw for 2,840 yards and led the team with 928 yards and 16 TDs rushing. They do return Damon Cox (519 yds, 8 TDs) at running back and Dre Hall (80-1,179, 9 TD) and Hagan Scott (22-208 1 TD) at WR. Only one starter returns on the line. DL Freddie Reed and CB Maurice Carnell are the only returning starters on defense.
Best Case Scenario
10-0, while UNA is #6 in the AFCA preseason poll, they have to replace the vast majority of their starters from last years national runner-up team. There are a few other potential roadblocks in conference play, but the Lions have the talent to run the table.
Worst Case Scenario
7-3, while the Lions have talent, so do several other teams on the schedule, and there's always the chance that TAMC will have an off game at the wrong time. Still, not too many teams have a legitimate chance to knock off the Lions.
9-1, LSC Champion, NCAA Playoffs
The Lions know how to win, which in tough games can make a difference. Still, with a schedule stacked with top teams, it is unlikely that any LSC teams goes undefeated. But that tough schedule will help make this a better team with a chance to make a deeper playoff run in the newly aligned Super Region 4.