A&M-Commerce's memorable 2013 season notched another milestone for the program as the Lions dominated Division I FCS opponent Houston Baptist, notching a 55-21 victory over the Huskies at Strake Jesuit Crusader Stadium. It marks the first victory for the Lions over a current Division I opponent as A&M-Commerce improves to 7-3 on the year.
A&M-Commerce finished the day with 545 yards of total offense, 474 of which came through the air, highlighted by a career day for Harrison Stewart. The junior quarterback completed 23 of his 40 passes for 383 yards and five touchdowns, three of which went to junior wide receiver Seth Smith, who hauled in six catches for 115 yards.
Junior receiver Vernon Johnson continued to etch his name in program history, catching 10 passes for 180 yards on the evening. Johnson is now the A&M-Commerce single-season leader in both receiving yards (1,202) and receptions (61), while remaining tied for the single-season receiving touchdown mark with 12 after being held out of the endzone.
Sophomore Hayden Marsh and junior Stacy Howard each pulled in four passes for A&M-Commerce as Marsh racked up 72 yards and Howard finished with 63 as the duo also caught a touchdown pass on the night for the Lions. Junior quarterback Deric Davis finished a respectable six-of-10 for 91 yards and a touchdown as well.
Defensively, A&M-Commerce held Houston Baptist to 389 total yards, including 197 on the ground and 192 through the air. Senior Stephen Ford led the way for the Lions with 10 total tackles, including nine solo, while junior Leo Migo had nine stops for A&M-Commerce.
Any lingering effects from the loss to Angelo State last week were non-existent as the Lions covered 72 yards in three plays, capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Smith, giving A&M-Commerce the 7-0 lead just 56 seconds into the game.
On Houston Baptist's ensuing possession, the A&M-Commerce defense struck again as after the Huskies drove deep into Lion territory, the defense forced a fumble which was subsequently returned 84 yards by Pablo Vasquez, putting A&M-Commerce on top 14-0 with just 2:26 burned off the clock.
Houston Baptist would answer back quickly, however, as the Huskies' Larry Day would scramble 74 yards to set up the Huskies inside the 10-yard line. Day would then convert on the next play as HBU pulled to within seven at 14-7 midway through the first quarter.
After holding the Lions to a three-and-out on their next drive, Houston Baptist struck again, moving 49 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 25-yard touchdown pass to pull the Huskies even with the Lions at 14-14.
But after the A&M-Commerce stalled on a pair of drives, the Lions finally began to settle back into its offensive groove. A&M-Commerce covered 66 yards in 11 plays as Marsh reeled in a 12-yard strike from Stewart in the back of the endzone, putting the Lions back on top 21-14 at the end of the first quarter.
With the seven-point lead back in its favor, A&M-Commerce used a dominating second quarter to take control of the game. Saul Martinez recorded back-to-back field goals, connecting on attempts from 26 and 35-yards out to put the Lions on top 27-14 midway through the second.
The Lion defense then stepped up and kept the Husky offensive attack at bay, then used its potent offensive attack to distance themselves from Houston Baptist. After an HBU punt pinned the Lions at their own three-yard line, A&M-Commerce covered 97 yards in just five plays as Smith hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass with 4:10 remaining in the half.
With under a minute left to play until halftime, the Lions struck one more time as Davis connected with Jordon Jenkins from three yards out, extending A&M-Commerce's halftime lead to 41-14.The Lions racked up 343 yards of total offense in the opening half, including 244 passing yards for Stewart.
The third quarter saw a shift in momentum as both offenses were kept off the scoreboard for the majority of the stanza. Houston Baptist capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive with a plunge from the one yard line on fourth and goal, trimming the A&M-Commerce lead to three scores at 41-21.
But A&M-Commerce responded with a three-play, 69-yard drive of its own as Stewart and Smith connected for the third time on the afternoon, combining for a 16-yard touchdown catch and run to give the Lions the 48-21 lead after three quarters.
The Lions then eliminated any comeback thoughts early in the fourth quarter as Stewart tossed his fifth touchdown strike of the day, this time connecting to Stacy Howard for 32 yards to put the game out of reach at 55-21 with 13:56 remaining. A&M-Commerce and Houston Baptist then exchanged possessions down the stretch, burning the final 15 minutes off the clock to preserve the Lion victory.
With the victory, A&M-Commerce finishes the season 4-1 in Homecoming games this season, including a perfect 4-0 on the road. Houston Baptist concludes its inaugural season of football with a 3-4 mark as the Huskies will be a full-fledged member of the Southland Conference beginning in 2014.
It now sets up a riveting season finale next Saturday, November 16th, when A&M-Commerce hosts Eastern New Mexico. The Greyhounds have been the talk of the Division II world, knocking off nationally-ranked LSC powerhouses West Texas A&M and Midwestern State in back-to-back weeks, as a postseason berth could well await the winner. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.