Lions weather the Storm, 31-29
A&M-Commerce fought off a slow start, a two-hour weather delay and a late surge by Southeastern Oklahoma, but in the end, the Lions escaped Paul Laird Field with a spirited 31-29 victory over the Savage Storm. With the victory, A&M-Commerce notches its first road victory in three seasons, the first since a 2010 victory at Central Oklahoma and snapping an 11-game skid.
In a game that was billed as an offensive showdown, the two teams didn't disappoint as A&M-Commerce garnered 423 yards of total offense compared to 495 for Southeastern Oklahoma. Quarterback Tyrik Rollison had his third 300-yard passing game of the season, completing 17-of-27 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown. Harrison Stewart was also 1-of-2 for six yards, throwing a touchdown strike in the second quarter.
Wide receiver Vernon Johnson had his best game as a Lion, hauling in eight passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard strike early in the third quarter. Seth Smith had four catches for 39 yards while Hayden Marsh recorded three catches for 60 yards on the afternoon.
On the ground, Ki-Janaven Garrett racked up 57 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown while Richard Cooper saw his first collegiate action, rushing for 26 yards on four carries for A&M-Commerce. But Southeastern Oklahoma held a significant advantage on the ground, rushing for 199 yards compared to 94 for A&M-Commerce.
Playing on Southeastern Oklahoma's homecoming, the Savage Storm came out and dominated the opening quarter. Southeastern held the ball for nearly 11 minutes while racking up 150 yards of total offense, compared to just 14 for A&M-Commerce. The Savage Storm notched a 38-yard field goal and a touchdown run, building a 10-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.
A&M-Commerce started to find its groove in the second quarter. Driving deep into Southeastern's territory, Stewart tossed a six-yard pass to Johnson in the corner of the endzone, cutting the deficit to 10-7. Following another touchdown run by Southeastern Oklahoma with just over two minutes left in the half, A&M-Commerce drove the length of the field in just seven plays, capped by a five-yard touchdown scamper by Garrett to cut the deficit to 17-14.
But as halftime got underway, Mother Nature had a plan of her own as a brilliant lightning display caused a two-hour, 20-minute delay before the second half finally got underway. The delay seemed to favor A&M-Commerce, however, as the Lions used a 76-yard touchdown strike from Rollison to Johnson to give the Lions its first lead of the game at 21-17.
After exchanging a handful of posessions, Southeastern Oklahoma lined up to punt the ball back to the Lions at the end of the third quarter. But the punt was blocked by freshman Cameron Napoleon, then scooped up and returned 30 yards by Dionte Taylor, giving A&M-Commerce the 28-17 leading heading into the fourth quarter – a quarter that would be one of the craziest in recent history.
Southeastern Oklahoma cut into the lead early in the fourth as the Savage Storm used a five-yard pass to cut the lead to 28-23 after the ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed. Both the Lions and Storm exchanged possessions as A&M-Commerce got the ball back with just over five minutes remaining. The Lions drove down inside the red zone but were unable to punch in the touchdown as Saul Martinez notched a 23-yard field goal to push the lead back to eight at 31-23 with 2:48 to go.
A&M-Commerce's defense came back on the field looking for one defensive stop and forced Southeastern Oklahoma into three fourth down situations. But the Savage Storm connected on all three, leading to a 10-yard touchdown pass with 48 seconds remaining to cut the Lions' advantage to 31-29. An unsportsmanlike penalty on Southeastern Oklahoma forced the Savage Storm to attempt the two-point conversion from the 18 yard line and it looked as if they had converted in the corner of the endzone to tie the game. But the receiver bobbled the ball and ended up dropping the attempt, maintaining the two-point cushion for A&M-Commerce.
With the onside kick coming, tempers were already near a breaking point as the Lions' were able to pounce on the attempt. But after a game-long battle, tempers got the best of both teams as both benches cleared in a massive skirmish that encompassed the entire field. With 46.9 seconds remaining on the clock, the officials decided to call the game, preserving the 31-29 victory for A&M-Commerce.
A&M-Commerce now turns its sights for another emotional road trip as the Lions head south to battle rival Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday, October 12. The Lions and Javelinas will tangle for the Chennault Cup, kicking off at 7 p.m. at Javelina Stadium.