The Red Zone – The House That Jerry Built

By Craig Burroughs

Texas Fun in “The House That Jerry Built”: The first of what I hope will be many Lone Star Football Festivals at the amazing new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington was a rousing success… unless, of course, you were rooting for Texas A&M-Commerce. The Lions got off to a great start in the first of the day’s three games, stopping Midwestern State on a 3-and-out and taking their first possession 73 yards in 7 plays to grab a 7-0 lead. Five minutesinto the 2nd period, Commerce was still holding a 10-7 advantage and it looked as though a competitive game might be afoot. Then the roof collapsed, and the Mustangs scored the next six TD’s, holding a 28-10 intermission cushion which expanded to 49-10 with ten minutes remaining. TAMU-C got on the board once more with 2nd-stringers on the field for both teams, but even the Mustangs’ 3rd stringers didn’t let up.

After recovering a fumble at the Lions’ 21, three-deep TB Peter Smith dashed 16 yards for a score with 4:59 left to play. Then the statistics really got skewed…taking over on downs at their own 12 with 64 seconds remaining, the Mustangs handed the ball off a couple of times to 4th-string TB Jimmy Pipkin instead of knealing down to run out the clock. The first play gained a yard, but Pipkin got around right end on the second, dashing 87 yards to score with 4 seconds on the game clock, making the final tally an absurd 63-17. Pipkin’s 6 rushes for 106 yards made him by far the leading rusher in the game, while Smith at 70 yards on 7 carries was tied with starting QB Brandon Kelsey in second place on the yardage tables. Starting TB Lester Bush ended with 63 yards and 2 scores on 11 runs, while 2nd-string TB Keidrick Jackson gained 62 yards on 15 tries, scoring four TD’s. All four of the Mustangs’ TB’s also caught a pass, with Pipkin again leading the stats with two catches for 20 yards. In a final statistical irony, Pipkin also had a 16-yard kick return to put him atop the game’s all-purpose yardage tables as well, with a total of 142. Kelsey hit on 70% of his passes, going 14-of-20 for 163 yards, and the Mustangs outgained the Lions by 592 to 421. It seems clear from this game that depth will not be a problem for Midwestern State in 2011.

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The second Lone Star Festival game matched Abilene Christian and North Alabama, ranked #3 and #4, respectively, in the early D-II national polls, and was clearly the feature game of the day. Terry Bowden’s Lions, favored to win the decimated five-team Gulf South Conference after the defection of its six Arkansas schools to form the new Great American Conference, seemed determined to prove their role on the national stage. UNA took control at the outset, scoring 16 points in the opening 9:03 with a first-possession field goal followed quickly by two INT’s deep in ACU territory that led to short-field TD’s. The Wildcats finally got the ship steadied and rallied with a TD and a FG in the 2nd Period to cut the halftime deficit to six. The Second Half turned into a defensive struggle, with the key play coming with barely three minutes left in the 3rd Quarter when an ACU fumble near midfield was scooped up by Janoris Jenkins, the star transfer DB from the University of Florida. Jenkins, rated the top NFL draft prospect at his position, raced 49 yards to score and put the Lions up by 13. The Wildcats were finally able to mount an 80-yard, 10-play drive to score with just 1:42 left to play. The ensuing onside kick was covered by the Lions, who drained the clock to successfully protect their 23-17 win. Statistically, one would think the Wildcats had the better of the contest, with total offense superiority of 493 yards to 348, and a QB, Mitchell Gale, who completed 33 of 59 passes for 390 yards and 2 TD’s. However, his two interceptions and three sacks made a huge difference, and the Lions took full advantage of ACU’s mistakes. Lee Chapple, UNA’s signal-caller, completed 22 of 37 tosses to keep the Lions ahead, and RB Antwan Ivey, with 3 catches for 73 yards, plus 67 more and a TD on 15 rushes, led his support crew. WR Taylor Gabriel was ACU’s most potent weapon, with 8 catches for 135 yards and both Wildcat TD’s, and a 13-yard end around dash. My guess is, if the fates align just right and these two teams meet again in the playoffs, the final score will be even closer than it was today.

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The final game of the Festival pitted Fifth-ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville with another Top-25 team, West Texas A&M, which had been upset in its opener, 26-24, by Colorado State-Pueblo. That shock to the Buffaloes system obviously had its impact, as WT scored a TD and a field goal in each of the first 2 periods to lead 20-0, and would have held that advantage were it not for a fumbled punt with 1:31 left in the half. The Javelinas took the cue, and scored in just two plays from 21 yards out on a throw from QB Daniel Ramirez to WR Robert Armstrong. A Buffaloes score early in the 3rd put them back on top at 28-7, but TAMUK refused to fold. The Javelinas scored twice before the end of the quarter to cut WT’s lead to 28-21. The Buffaloes replied in the blink of an eye to retake control, as QB Dustin Vaughan hit WR Torrence Allen with a 61-yard bomb that took exactly eight seconds off the clock and restored a 14-point lead heading into the final period. West Texas A&M put the icing on the cake late in the game with a 78-yard, 7-play sortie that made the final tally a convincing 42-21 and clearly put them back in the playoff hunt. Vaughan had a terrific day for the winners with 24-of-41 passing for 384 yards, 3 TD’s and no INT’s, while TAMUK starter Nate Poppell didn’t fare quite as well, with 26-of-42 for 306 yards and 2 TD’s, but with 2 INT’S and 3 sacks on the downside.

The play began at Noon and didn’t end until nearly Midnight, and at least five potential playoff contenders competed in the 3 games. For the fans who stayed all day, the $10 ticket price was quite a bargain, and for those of us in the pressbox, it was well worth the trip, too. More Lone Star Football Festivals are on the drawing board for future years, and they will be on my coverage calendar for sure. There are few finer venues in which to watch football than the $1.2 billion House that Jerry Built!

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