Trailing by two scores heading into the fourth quarter, A&M-Commerce rallied to take the lead with just over seven minutes remaining. But a late Angelo State touchdown spoiled Homecoming as the Lions fell to the Rams 25-20 at Memorial Stadium.
The loss overshadowed what was another stellar performance by junior wide receiver Vernon Johnson, who reeled in eight catches for 165 yards and three touchdown passes, including scoring strikes of 54 and 65 yards on the afternoon. Johnson now has 51 receptions for 1,022 yards, becoming just the second Lion receiver to surpass 1,000 receiving yards this season and ranking second all-time in program history.
Johnson's three touchdown catches pushes him up to 12 on the season, which is tied for the most receiving touchdowns in a single season in program history. He enters the final two games needing just eight catches to set the single-season reception record as well.
Junior quarterback Harrison Stewart completed 19 of his 36 attempts for 256 yards and two touchdowns. But Stewart felt the pressure from the Angelo State defensive front all afternoon as he was sacked 10 times.
Hayden Marsh and Seth Smith each pulled in four catches with Marsh racking up 45 yards through the air. Stacy Howard had three catches for 37 yards as well for the A&M-Commerce receiving corps. On the ground, freshman Ki-Janaven Garrett led the way, rushing for 64 yards on 16 carries.
Defensively, junior Charles Tuaau had a career day, recording 12 tackles, including five tackles for loss against the Rams along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Freshman Cameron Napoleon registered nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, with sophomore Cole Pitts adding eight stops for A&M-Commerce as the Lions recorded 12 tackles for loss on the day. Senior Matt Claggett had seven tackles, as well as the Lions' lone sack of the afternoon.
Senior punter Cameron Frosch set a career milestone in the loss, punting eight times for 282 yards with a long of 55. That ups his career punting total to 10,164 as the Lion all-time punting leader eclipsed the 10,000 yard plateau. Frosch was also A&M-Commerce's second-leading rusher on the day, taking a fake punt attempt 23 yards for a crucial first down in the fourth quarter.
Playing in front of an energetic 7,195 Homecoming fans, A&M-Commerce gave the hometown crowd something to cheer about early as Stewart and Johnson connected for a 54-yard touchdown strike early in the first quarter, putting the Lions on top 7-0 just four minutes into the game.
Angelo State would respond with a touchdown drive of its own on the ensuing possession, moving 51 yards down the field on five plays as the Rams tied the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
From that point on, A&M-Commerce's offense struggled to find any traction. The Lions managed just 105 yards of total offense in the first half, compared to 209 for Angelo State. The Rams would punch in a pair of second quarter touchdowns, giving Angelo State the 19-7 lead at halftime.
Neither offense was able to find its groove through the duration of the third quarter as the Lions managed just 41 yards of offense, compared to 56 for the Rams. For the first time this season, neither team scored in the quarter as Angelo State maintained its 19-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final 15 minutes, A&M-Commerce finally began to find its offensive footing, beginning with the incredible 65-yard touchdown strike as Johnson hauled in a Stewart pass with one hand, then scampered 35 yards to the endzone to cut the deficit to 19-14 with 12:36 remaining.
After exchanging possessions, the Lions put together a 10-play, 57-yard drive midway through the fourth quarter which was capped by Deric Davis throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the corner of the endzone, putting the Lions on top 20-19. A&M-Commerce went for two, but Stewart's conversion attempt was intercepted in the endzone, giving the Lions the one point advantage.
A&M-Commerce's defense held the Rams to a three-and-out on Angelo State's next possession, but the Ram defense returned the favor on the Lions' ensuing possession, forcing A&M-Commerce to give the ball back to Angelo State on the Lions' 45-yard-line with 4:32 remaining.
The Rams would cover the 45-yards of field between them and the goal line in seven plays, burning 2:53 off the clock as Angelo State's Jermie Calhoun notched an 11-yard touchdown run with 1:30 to go.
A&M-Commerce's ensuing drive began on its own 31-yard line, and after a pair of incomplete passes and a rush by Richard Cooper off an botched snap, the Lions found themselves facing a crucial fourth and seven. Stewart tried to connect with Howard across the middle but Angelo State's Blair Smith made a diving interception to secure the Ram victory, their first in Lone Star Conference play this season.
Angelo State notched its fifth-straight victory over A&M-Commerce, dating back to the 2008 season. Homecoming continues to be unkind to the Lion faithful as A&M-Commerce dropped its seventh-straight Homecoming game, dating back to a 20-17 win over Angelo State in 2007.
The Lions prepare for their final road trip of the 2013 season, stepping out of LSC play to face a Division I opponent for the second-straight season. A&M-Commerce heads to Houston to take on Houston Baptist on Saturday, November 9th in the Huskies' first-ever Homecoming game as HBU is in its first season of football. Opening kick is set for 3 p.m. at Strake Jesuit High School.