Big weather has delayed, postponed countless games across the college football landscape in 2018, but nothing compares to the story of the game between Texas A&M-Commerce and Midwestern State over the weekend.
For starters, this was a massive games for both teams, the Lone Star Conference and the entire Division II landscape. Texas A&M-Commerce stands as the defending Division II national champions, carrying a 5-1 record and a No. 9 national ranking. And though the Lions won the national championship, Midwestern State was the 2017 Lone Star champion and entered Saturday's game at 5-0 and No. 4 in the land.
The game was scheduled for a 7 p.m. start in Midwestern's Memorial Stadium, but a lightning delay pushed the kickoff back 30 minutes. But the skies quickly cleared and kickoff arrived at 7:30, and A&M-Commerce quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead.
Midwestern State answered that score with an 8-yard touchdown run, but the Lions answered that touchdown with one of their own, and the Lions see-sawed back in front with a 10-7 lead at the close of the first quarter.
The Mustangs added an equalizing field goal midway through the second quarter to close the first half in a 10-10 tie, and as both teams headed to the locker room, threatening clouds blanketed the Wichita Falls skies.
The lightning returned, and the radar wasn't as optimistic this time: the lightning was here to stay. "We were prepared to wait it out until midnight," Midwestern State AD Kyle Williams told FootballScoop. "But we kept getting (lightning) alert after alert after alert." At 10:23 p.m., Midwestern State announced the game would be postponed until 2 p.m. Sunday.
Knowing they'd need to stick around another day, A&M-Commerce started calling hotels. And calling hotels. And calling more hotels. The timing didn't help -- it was MSU's family weekend, so there was no one in Wichita Falls that could house an entire football team on zero notice. A&M-Commerce expanded its radius to every hotel within a 75-mile radius of Wichita Falls and still had no luck. In fact, A&M-Commerce associate AD Josh Manck told me the school ultimately called more than 60 hotels, even some in Oklahoma, but there was no room anywhere.
All of a sudden midnight was approaching and the visitors had nowhere to stay.
At 11:40 p.m., Midwestern State announced the game would end in a no contest with no make-up scheduled. Texas A&M-Commerce loaded its busses and began making the 3-hour drive back home.
Though the game's death was publicly announced, its corpse was not lowered into the ground just yet. ADs and head coaches from both sides worked to secure a neutral site to play on Sunday, even contacting high schools in between the two schools, but nothing worked out.
Then A&M-Commerce AD Tim McMurray called his contacts at North Texas; UNT AD Wren Baker (Rogers State and Northwest Missouri State) and COO Jared Mosley (Abilene Christian) are former Division II ADs, and Denton is roughly equidistant between Commerce and Wichita Falls.
North Texas happened to be jetting home from a game at UTEP when McMurray reached out to Mosley. He, Baker and UNT head coach Seth Littrell happened to be flying home together on a donor's plane. Littrell had no issues with loaning the stadium as long as the teams were off the field in time for the Mean Green's 5 p.m. walkthrough. Mosley wanted the game played at 1 p.m., McMurray was hoping for 3, so they compromised on a 2 p.m. kick.
"We've all been there," Baker told FootballScoop. "I knew it was really important to get this game played, a rivalry game between two top-10 teams."
While the North Texas braintrust flew home and the Lions team was on the bus back home to Commerce, McMurray, A&M-Commerce head coach Colby Carthel and wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Yogi Gallegos decamped at a Wichita Falls-area Whataburger near 1 a.m. Sunday. Once details with North Texas were ironed out, the appropriate parties were informed and Midwestern State announced at 1:27 a.m. the game would be revived at UNT's Apogee Stadium at 2 p.m. Sunday -- barely 12 hours later.
The Lions arrived back in Commerce around 2 a.m., went to bed and then loaded back up for their third bus trip in as many days. McMurray, Carthel and Gallegos shared a single hotel room in the Denton area. McMurray told FootballScoop it was 4:20 a.m. the last time he remembered looking at his phone; he was up making calls by 7 a.m.
But simply finding a stadium is only the first step. The schools had to work together to find the things you need to stage a football game but the average fan takes for granted -- refs, a chain crew, things like that. Midwestern State didn't have a bus scheduled because the Mustangs were scheduled to play at home on Saturday, so MSU AD Williams had to track down an available bus in the middle of the night on a weekend -- not exactly regular business hours. He and head coach Bill Maskill were on the phone with a local Golden Corral when it opened at 6:30 on Sunday morning to secure the Mustangs a pre-game meal (A&M-Commerce also ate at a Golden Corral on its way into Denton). The North Texas operations staff worked to make sure the little things were taken care of on their end -- like putting bags in the Apogee Stadium trash cans, for instance -- while also hosting three previously-scheduled events in other sports.
And so on Sunday afternoon at Apogee Stadium in Denton, the game picked up where it left off Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls. Midwestern State forced a punt to open the second half, then registered a 9-yard touchdown run to grab its first lead of the day(s), 17-10.
A&M-Commerce answered with a field goal to pull within 17-13, then added a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to edge back in front at 20-17.
Midwestern State forced a punt on the Lions' next possession -- which sailed over the punter's head and out the back of the end zone for a safety. Now trailing by just one, the Mustangs maneuvered to the A&M-Commerce 22-yard line, but Jaron Imbriani's 39-yard field goal was blocked.
Three minutes and 15 seconds still remained, though, and the Mustangs forced an A&M-Commerce punt. A 21-yard punt return set the Mustangs up at their own 45 with 52 seconds to play. Midwestern State moved to the A&M-Commerce 18, and an illegal substitution penalty pushed Imbriani's game-winning field goal five yards forward, turning a 35-yard try into a 30-yarder.
On the final play of the game, in a game between the defending Lone Star Conference champions and the defending Division II national champions, Imbriani's game-winning field goal sailed wide right.
Nearly 20 hours after and more than 100 miles southwest of where the game began, Texas A&M-Commerce secured a crucial win, 20-19.
"That was the longest halftime speech I've ever had to give," Carthel said afterward. "It was a wild weekend. Coming over on Friday our busses broke down and we had to ride yellow dogs to Wichita Falls. Had a good first half, had a 16-hour halftime, took about a two-and-a-half hour nap, got back on the bus and played another 30 minutes of football against a really good football team."