Trailing by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter, A&M-Commerce showed its resiliency against 23rd-ranked Midwestern State, rallying back to pull to within six points in the waning minutes. But the Lions were unable to complete the comeback, falling 30-24 to the Mustangs on a wet and misty night at Memorial Stadium.
A&M-Commerce falls to 2-2 on the season and 1-2 in Lone Star Conference play after playing its third ranked opponent in as many weeks. Midwestern State improves to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in LSC action.
"We had too many mistakes tonight, and you can't do that against a team like Midwestern State," said head coach Colby Carthel. "I thought we did some good things. Our defense made some big plays when we needed them to, and we were able to move the ball pretty well there at the end. But those mistakes hurt us, and it is something we need to work on moving forward."
A&M-Commerce, which entered the week ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense, knew it would have its work cut out for it facing Midwestern State's vaunted rushing attack. The Mustangs ran for 273 yards on 56 carries, including some long runs in opportune moments, but were held to just 99 yards passing on the night.
The Lions finished with 325 yards of total offense, 222 of which came in the air as Tyrik Rollison completed 17 of his 39 passes for a pair of touchdowns, but two key interceptions as well. Stacy Howard and Vernon Johnson each pulled down four catches on the night for 52 and 44 yards, respectively, while Seth Smith led A&M-Commerce with 77 yards receiving on three catches.
A&M-Commerce's ground game also seemed to get a little bit of a jolt from freshman Ki-Janaven Garrett, who rushed for 78 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. Rollison also scrambled for 13 yards on the night for the Lions.
Saturday's game marked the third-straight year that the Lions and Mustangs would go against each other in the annual Harvey Martin Classic, named for the late Lion All-American, with Midwestern State winning the previous two meetings by an average of nearly 50 points a game.
Midwestern State struck first as Chauncey Harris reeled off a nearly untouched 40 yard scramble early in the first quarter, giving the Mustangs the 7-0 lead. A&M-Commerce would cut into that deficit on its ensuing drive as Saul Martinez connected on a 34-yard field goal attempt as the Lions pulled to within 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
The Mustangs' Keidrick Jackson then made his presence felt early in the second quarter, rushing for 16 yards following a 51-yard interception return forNeiko Conway for the first of his two touchdowns on the night, putting Midwestern State on top 14-3 with 8:34 remaining in the half. Jackson would lead all players with 117 yards on the ground on 27 carries.
But A&M-Commerce showed it was a different Lions team than in previous years as on their ensuing drive, they drove 71 yards on 14 plays, capped with a 14-yard pass from Rollison to Smith, pulling back to within four at 14-10 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.
Midwestern State would eat up the remainder of the clock in the half, moving the ball 62 yards inside the A&M-Commerce five-yard line where a key defensive stop by the Lions forced the Mustangs to settle for a 20-yard field goal and a 17-10 halftime advantage.
Midwestern State's Jackson would strike again early in the third, scrambling 18 yards for a touchdown, which was set up by a 60-yard punt return, followed by Greg Saladino added a 39-yard field goal to give the Mustangs a commanding 27-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
However the Lions answered with some resiliency of their own, putting together an eight-play, 75-yard drive to start the fourth which ended with Garrett finding the endzone from five yards out to cut the deficit to 27-17 with 12:51 remaining.
Midwestern State used its rushing attack to chew up large portions of the fourth quarter clock, adding a Saladino 43-yard field goal with 3:32 remaining to go in front by two scores at 13-7.
But Rollison would engineer a spirited drive for the Lions as A&M-Commerce drove 59 yards in just 1:52, converting on a pair of third-downs before Rollison found a wide-open Taylor Peasha in the back of the endzone from five yards out, pulling A&M-Commerce to within one score at 30-24 with 1:32 remaining.
The Lions then needed one more bounce to go its way, lining up for the onside kick, but Midwestern State recovered and was able to kill the remainder of the clock to escape with the 30-24 victory, its third-straight over A&M-Commerce.
Defensively, the Lions were led by the trio of Tevin Moore, Cole Pitts and Joel Wren, each of which tallied six tackles on the evening., including 1.5 tackles for loss for Pitts. Charles Tuau finished with five tackles, including a pair for loss, while Davarus Shores added five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup on the evening.
A&M-Commerce still leads the all-time series against Midwestern State 11-7 as the Lions remain 7-2 all-time against the Mustangs in Commerce. Saturday evening's game marked the first meeting between the two at Memorial Stadium since a 27-24 Lion victory in 2005.
The Lions now step out of conference play, making the short trip north to take on Southeastern Oklahoma on Saturday, October 5th. The Savage Storm are 1-3 on the year, coming off a 45-7 loss at Ouachita Baptist earlier this afternoon. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. from Paul Laird Stadium in Durant, Okla.