Doing the little things year in and year out over the last three seasons has Texas A&M-Commerce football players prepared to handle the electric atmosphere that is expected at Memorial Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. (CT).

It will be one of the biggest regular-season home games for Texas A&M-Commerce this year and quite possibly in the Colby Carthel era, which started on Jan. 23, 2013.

It is definitely one of the top games in Division II this weekend when No. 4 Texas A&M-Commerce (5-0) takes on No. 7 Midwestern State (4-0) in a game that will have an impact in the Lone Star Conference and regional rankings. 

“We are putting up record crowds and record tailgates,” Carthel said. “Where this has grown in three and a half years has been fun to see. There is rich tradition here. The passion is here. The history is here. They were waiting for the spark to light the fire. The 2013 team got it done, and it has been rocking ever since. We expect another record turnout Saturday night.”

The Lions didn’t rise by getting caught up in outside distractions.

“The event shouldn’t matter in terms of your preparation, your practice and your ultimate play in the game on Saturday,” Carthel said. “You let them know all of that. Let them know your ranking and everything everybody is excited about mean absolutely nothing. You are focused on taking care of business so when regional rankings come out, we are in the picture for the playoffs.”

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It took hard work and dedication to advance the program from the 1-9 season it had in 2012 before Carthel arrived.

Texas A&M-Commerce finished 7-5 in 2013, improved to 9-3 in 2014 and won the Heart of Texas Bowl. Last season, Texas A&M-Commerce finished 8-4 and reached the NCAA Division II playoff before losing at Ferris State. It was the first playoff appearance for Texas A&M-Commerce in 20 years.

“Ferris State was unbelievable,” Carthel said. “It was great for our program, kind of the next step. We were ahead at halftime (16-13). Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays in the second half to win it.”

The players have bought in to what the coaching staff is teaching them to make the remarkable improvements on the field.

“I think we are honest with them in all facets of the game and in life and year around,” Carthel said. “They appreciate that honesty. They have learned it is the little things. Winning this game on Saturday is going to have a lot less to do with Saturday and a lot more to do with the 364 days prior. They have learned that as a unit. They have to take care of business in the classroom and off the field and in the summer with their volunteer workouts. The kids have bought into a championship mentality and are doing what it takes.

He added: “Game day has become a lot more fun and easier on coaches when you have a team mature like that over the years.”

2016 Statistics Midwestern State Texas A&M-Commerce
Record 4-0 5-0
Points scored 37 40.5
Points allowed 23.8 21.8
Rushing offense 210.5 150.3
Rushing defense 164.8 147.8
Passing offense 226.2 315
Passing defense 232 229.8

Young, hungry Shepherd prepares for Glenville State

Shepherd senior quarterback Jeff Ziemba has thrown 11 touchdowns in four games.
Shepherd Athletics
Shepherd senior quarterback Jeff Ziemba has thrown 11 touchdowns in four games.
Shepherd football started the 2016 season a bit younger than the squad that took the Rams where the program has never been before last year: the NCAA Division II championship game.

Despite feeling the disappointment of falling in the title game, the Rams appear to have the same hungry determination to succeed this year. Shepherd, ranked No. 3 in the AFCA Top 25, puts its 4-0 record on the line against Glenville State (3-2) at noon (ET) Saturday in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The game will be televised on American Sports Network.

“The biggest thing is we are a young football team,” Shepherd coach Monte Cater said. “Overall, I am very pleased. We have played two games on the road against teams who were supposed to be in the hunt for the conference title. Those were not easy. We were able to find a way to win. It has been a good start. But, there aren’t any easy wins, and this certainly won’t be either.”

RELATED: Shepherd QB Ziemba ready for Glenville State

A year ago, Shepherd held only a 20-17 halftime lead at Glenville State before winning 48-31. But everything about the Rams’ 2015 season was magical until the final game. Shepherd beat Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock and Grand Valley State in the playoffs to reach the Division II championship game.

The only misfortune for the Rams was when quarterback Jeff Ziemba suffered an injury in the semifinals and was limited in what he could do in the title game.

But Ziemba is back for his senior year and is off to a great start. In four games, he has passed for 1,243 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

“Being able to come back after that injury was definitely a great feeling,” Ziemba said. “I feel I didn’t get a chance to show people who watched the championship game really what I had. But hopefully we are looking to make it back this year and show people what Shepherd football is about.

He added: “We have played pretty well. We got off to a slow start in the first game. I think we are really coming together and playing as one where earlier in the season, we were getting a lot of penalties. We are still getting penalties, but we are getting smarter. We realize that can hurt us. I think we are playing well.”

Shepherd used hard work and a family culture to go 13-1 last season and knock off a few traditional powers in the playoffs. It also gained experience by playing teams from other parts of the country.

“It definitely helped a lot for the guys who played in the championship game and playoff games against Slippery Rock and IUP,” Ziemba said. “We faced some great teams and some great players. We saw different defenses and different offensive schemes. It helped us a lot.”

The focus this week for the Rams is Glenville State.

“Because there is a rivalry involved, it is going to be a tough game,” Cater said. “Are we as good as last year? That remains to be seen in terms in what we can accomplish. We have done some things well. More importantly, we got a handle on things we can do better.”

2016 Statistics Glenville State Shepherd
Record 3-2 4-0
Points scored 31 41.8
Points allowed 28 16
Rushing offense 140.4 118
Rushing defense 127.8 100
Passing offense 287.6 356.5
Passing defense 245.4 181
 

No. 14 Ferris State and No. 2 Grand Valley State to play for Anchor-Bone Trophy

All week, football players from Grand Valley State and Ferris State will hear from fans and classmates about winning the Anchor-Bone Trophy in the Anchor-Bone Classic.

But the players have competed in this annual rivalry game enough times to know they can’t get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding this game -- and there will be a lot. A record-setting crowd of 16,000 people are expected to funnel into Grand Valley State’s Lubbers Stadium Saturday evening to watch No. 2 Grand Valley State (5-0) take on No. 14 Ferris State (4-1).

MORE: Northwest Missouri State tops latest AFCA poll

“Any time you play in Lubbers Stadium, you get juiced, you just do,” said Grand Valley State senior wide receiver Matt Williams in a story on Grand Valley State's website. “Obviously, people outside the program are going to talk because of the huge rivalry. For us though, it's the biggest game on our schedule only because it is the next game. That is how we have been approaching it every week this year, and that's how we need to approach it this week.”

No. 6 IUP takes on No. 15 California (Pa.) in the eighth annual Coal Bowl

The top two teams in the West Division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference square off when No. 6 Indiana University of Pennsylvania (4-0, 2-0 in PSAC play), travels to No. 15 California (Pa.) (4-0, 2-0) at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday in the eighth annual Coal Bowl.

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This is the first Coal Bowl since 2012 that will be played with both teams ranked in the top 25; No. 6 California defeated No. 14 IUP 26-24 on a late field goal in that last matchup.

Saturday's game features the top two scoring teams in Division II. The Vulcans average 62.8 points while IUP scores 57.8 per game.