A matchup between two top-25-ranked teams ended in defeat for the No. 11 Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions as they fell to the No. 20 Colorado State-Pueblo Thunderwolves 24-17 on the road Saturday night.
The game started off as a bitter defensive struggle as both teams were stymied on offense. The Lions' best chance to score dried up as their best first-quarter drive stalled and they were forced to settle for a field goal from Jake Viquez.
A&M-Commerce added to the lead as Thunderwolf punt returner Isaiah Diggs muffed a punt, then recovered, then fumbled a second time, with the Lions' Mark Westbrook recovering in the endzone for a score.
It looked like the game would be a struggle for CSU-Pueblo, as starting quarterback Jordan Kitna was knocked out of the game early with an injury. Backup signal-caller Gunnar Lamphere was called in and began to get his footing. He led his team down the field, culminating with a two-yard scoring run for the quarterback in the second quarter.
A&M-Commerce gave a free field goal opportunity to the Thunderwolves at the end of the half by committing a roughing the passer penalty with no time left, allowing CSU-Pueblo kicker Mitchell Carter to boot a 33-yarder through the uprights, knotting the game up at 10-10 at halftime.
The Lions regained the lead on their opening drive, with running back Antonio Lealiiee punching it in from one yard out. But the Thunderwolves answered with a touchdown on their next drive to tie the game again.
CSU-Pueblo then jumped into the driver's seat, taking their first lead early in the fourth quarter.
A&M-Commerce had their last chance to score, starting their final drive with more than seven minutes remaining. What followed was a long, plodding march down the field that featured multiple penalties for both sides, and used up huge chunks of the clock.
The Lions got within the 10 yard line with less than a minute to play and no timeouts. An incompletion on fourth down seemed like the end for A&M-Commerce, but they were given new life as the Thunderwolves were called for pass interference. But from the four yard line, the Lions were unable to score.
A fourth down pass that would've been a touchdown was called back by a holding call on A&M-Commerce, which had an unsportsmanlike conduct flag tacked on, giving the Lions one last play from 30 yards out. The last-second pass fell incomplete and A&M-Commerce began a long trip back home following the 24-17 defeat.
Both teams' defenses sacked the opposing quarterback five times Saturday night.
Lamphere was stout for CSU-Pueblo after coming into the game, completing 14 of 25 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. D.J. Penick was battling injuries on the night and finished with a hard-fought 47 yards on 13 carries. Punter Justin Dwinell put a lot of pressure on the opposing team, with four of his seven punts being downed inside the 20 yard line.
A great defensive effort by the Lions was all for naught, as they only allowed 19 rushing yards on the night and just 238 total yards. However, A&M-Commerce was penalized 11 times for 110 yards, which was a huge factor. Quarterback Miklo Smalls completed 23 of 34 throws for 248 yards and an interception. Lealiiee gained 35 yards and had a touchdown on 17 carries.
The loss drops the Lions to 2-1 on the season while the Thunderwolves improve to 3-1. CSU-Pueblo will head to South Dakota School of Mines next week while A&M-Commerce will be on the road against Texas A&M University-Kingsville.