Texas A&M University-Commerce defeated Colorado Mesa University 34-23 in a first-round NCAA Division II football playoff game at Memorial Stadium in Commerce on Nov. 19. The victory sends the Lions to a second-round game against Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., on Nov. 26. Kickoff will be at noon with pregame coverage on KETR beginning at 11:30 a.m.
The no. 8-ranked Lions (10-1, 8-1 in the Lone Star Conference) defeated the no. 24 Mavericks (9-3, 7-2 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) with opportunistic play on offense and a valiant outing on defense against one of the nation's top scoring units. A&M-Commerce scored 20 points off of turnovers.
Lions quarterback Luis Perez completed 17 of 33 passes for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. A&M-Commerce running back Ovie Urevbu, starting for the injured Richard Cooper, ran for 109 yards on 19 carries.
Trailing 24-9, Colorado Mesa looked poised to make the game competitive with about 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The high-powered Mavericks offense had belatedly found a groove and was advancing toward the Lions end zone. But a tipped pass was intercepted by the Lions' Adam Sagapolu, who returned the football 58 yards to the Colorado Mesa 14. On the next play, Darby Smith caught a Perez pass and scampered in for a touchdown that provided some much-needed insurance for A&M-Commerce with 9:55 remaining.
Low-scoring first half
The Mavericks opened play by driving almost, but not quite, the length of the field. Colorado Mesa traveled from its own 8-yard line to the Lions' 5 over the course of 15 plays, but the A&M-Commerce defense tightened up and held the Mavericks to a field goal with 8:15 left in the first quarter.
After the teams traded punts, the Lions' offense sparked when Urevbu broke loose for a 45-yard run that brought A&M-Commerce to the Colorado Mesa 28. Perez connected with Vincent Hobbs on a pass that gave the Lions a first and goal at the 1-yard line. Gabriel Rodriguez pushed through the line for a touchdown on the next play, and Kristov Martinez' kick made the score 7-3 at 2:55 of the first.
The Mavericks' big offensive line helped Colorado Mesa rumble down into the A&M-Commerce red zone again, but a turnover changed the game's momentum. On third-and-5 at the Lions' 15, the Mavericks' Sean Rubalcaba completed a pass to Marcus Hines, but A&M-Commerce's Yusef Sterling-Lowe forced a fumble. Cameron Rogers recovered for the Lions, who soon advanced the ball past midfield.
A key pass reception kept the drive alive. Facing third-and-11 at the Colorado Mesa 45-yard line, Perez launched a long ball to Buck Wilson, who jumped over double coverage for the catch at the Mavericks' 24. The Colorado Mesa defense stiffened to keep A&M-Commerce out of the end zone, but Martinez booted a 27-yard field goal to put the Lions up 10-3 with 9:44 left in the half.
Once again, the Mavericks drove into A&M-Commerce territory, and once again, a big defensive play deflated the possession. On third-and-6 at the Lions' 27, Rubaclaba was sacked for a loss of 10 yards by Tavita Faaiu and Josh Reynolds. A 54-yard field goal attempt by Colorado Mesa's Ryan Sheehan fell well short.
The teams traded turnovers near the end of the half. A&M-Commerce receiver D'Arthur Cowan dropped the football after catching a pass near the Mavericks' 40-yard line and Colorado Mesa's Brad Gillis recovered. But the Mavericks once again stumbled on third down. On third-and-5 at the Lions' 30, the Lions' Kieston carter hurried a pass by backup quarterback Aric Kaiser, and A&M-Commerce's Brucks Saathoff intercepted the off-target pass. The Lions led 10-3 at halftime.
Turnovers, big plays help Lions pull away in second half
A&M-Commerce doubled its lead with a touchdown drive to begin the third quarter. Facing fourth-and-4 at the Colorado Mesa 26, the Lions appeared poised for a field goal, but after a time out, A&M-Commerce chose to go for the first down. Perez completed a 7-yard pass to Cowan to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Vincent Hobbs hauled in a 14-yard pass that brought the Lions to the Mavericks' 1-yard line. Gabriel Rodriguez then completed a back-of-the-end zone pass to John Thomas and the Lions soon led 17-3.
Another turnover prevented the Colorado Mesa offense from answering. On the ensuing kickoff, the Mavericks' Mason Newton fumbled and A&M-Commerce's Reggie Kincade recovered at the Colorado Mesa 22. It took the Lions just four plays to score another touchdown. Perez floated a pass to Hobbs in the corner of the end zone to help A&M-Commerce take a 24-3 advantage at 7:57 of the third quarter.
The Mavericks got back into the game with their first touchdown of the game on their next possession. A nine-play, 63-yard drive was capped by a 30-yard touchdown run by Jonathon Beverly, though an unsuccessful conversion attempt left the score at 24-9 with 3:38 left in the period.
After the Sagapolu interception and Smith touchdown, the Lions led 31-9. Colorado Mesa struck back with a six-play, 63-yard drive that took only 1:01 to complete. Rubalcaba connected with Marcus Hines a 26-yard touchdown play that closed the gap to 31-16.
After the Lions went three-and-out, another Lions interception of a Rubalcaba pass foiled the Mavericks' next possession. A&M-Commerce's Uriah Harris hauled down an errant football near midfield with about six minutes left to play. Shortly thereafter, Martinez booted a 46-yard field goal to put the Lions up 34-16 with 4:24 remaining on the game clock.
Colorado Mesa made it a two-score game with just more than two minutes left to play in the game. A 32-yard pass from Rubalcaba to Josh Brown keyed a n 82-yard drive that ended with Rubalcaba scoring on a three-yard keeper. But the Lions' Buck Wilson recovered the ensuing onside kick, and neither team scored again.
A&M-Commerce won the Lone Star Conference for the third consecutive season and is the only LSC school still competing in this year's playoffs. Colorado Mesa won the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Grand Valley State (11-0, 10-0) is champion of the Great lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, is ranked no. 2 nationally and earned a bye in this week's round of playoffs as the no. 1 seed in NCAA Division II Football Super Region Four.
Elsewhere around the region, Ferris State romped past Midwestern State 65-34, while Colorado School of Mines enjoyed a similarly lopsided 63-35 victory over Southwestern Baptist. Colorado School of Mines will kick off against Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich., on No. 26. The winner of that game will play the winner of A&M-Commerce vs. Grand Valley State. If the Lions advance, they would either host Colorado School of Mines or play at Ferris State on Dec. 3. Last year, Ferris State defeated A&M-Commerce 48-30 in a first-round NCAA playoff game.