A promising playoff run came to a screeching halt on Saturday as the No. 7-seed Texas A&M University-Commerce Lion football team fell by a score of 42-21 against No. 1 seed Minnesota State.
The game marked the third contest in a row where the Lions faced off against an undefeated team. This was also just the second time these two teams have met, with the all-time series evening-up at 1-1 following Saturday's result.
The home team Mavericks got off on the right foot with a quick scoring drive to go up 7-0, taking just six plays and less than three minutes of game time for Nate Gunn to punch the ball across the goal line for a four-yard scoring run.
A&M-Commerce answered emphatically on their next drive, as quarterback Miklo Smalls found Kelan Smith in the open, and Smith dove for the pylon on the sideline to get the Lions on the board.
A&M-Commerce's defense, which had only allowed one touchdown in its previous three games, made a huge stand after Minnesota State was gifted two possessions in a row following a muffed punt by the Lions, not allowing any points.
Later in the quarter, the Mavericks had special teams issues of their own as Parrish Marrow dropped a punt near his own goal line, which was scooped up by Christian Wise in the endzone for an A&M-Commerce touchdown. The Lions held a 14-7 lead after one quarter.
The lead did not last for too long as Minnesota State scored twice in the first half of the second quarter. A&M-Commerce's offense stalled and Smalls was also intercepted during the quarter. After one half of play, the Lions were down 21-14.
Things went from bad to worse for A&M-Commerce. Receiver Matt Childers tossed a pass on a trick play that was intercepted by Alex Goettl and returned 31 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lions down by two scores with just 15 minutes to play.
The Mavericks added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Preston Wheeler was brought into the game for the Lions on their final drive, and he helped lead them down the field for their first touchdown since the opening quarter as he completed a two-yard pass to Tyler Guice in the final minute of the game.
The result was unchanged as Minnesota State advanced to the next round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs with a 42-21 victory.
The Mavericks used a heavy run attack to get the job done all game, as dueling quarterbacks Ryan Schlichte and J.D. Ekowa combined to complete just three out of 11 passes for 45 yards. Minnesota State more than made up for it on the ground as Gunn finished with 175 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Justin Taormina added 76 yards and a score on just four attempts, while Ekowa had 29 yards and a touchdown on six rushes. As a team, the Mavericks picked up 277 rushing yards.
Smalls did not have a game to remember, completing 20 of 40 passes for 276 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Smith caught eight passes for 96 yards and a score while Chance Cooper had seven catches for 114 yards. Fearsome kick returner and defensive back Dominique Ramsey found himself in the backfield as the go-to running back for A&M-Commerce, picking up 26 yards on 12 attempts. Smalls had just 14 yards on 12 rushes, and was sacked three times. Wheeler completed four of five throws for 70 yards after entering the game.
The Lions outgained Minnesota State in total yardage 410 to 322, but had a smaller average yards per play at just 5.47 to the Mavericks 6.08.
The loss drops A&M-Commerce to 10-3 on the season while Minnesota State improves to 13-0. The senior class for the Lions leaves behind a legacy of playoff success, having played in 12 total playoff games over the last four years and are 9-3 in those games.
These marks for playoff wins and winning percentage are both the highest totals for any team over a four-year span in the Lone Star Conference.
Head Coach David Bailiff also had the best debut season in A&M-Commerce history, with his win total eclipsing that of all 19 other coaches in school history in their first season at the helm.