A&M-Commerce made 25th-ranked West Texas A&M take notice on the opening play of the game, but the Buffs wore down the Lions in the second half as A&M-Commerce dropped a 62-28 decision at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium in Canyon.
The Lions fall to 2-1 on the year and 0-1 in Lone Star Conference play.
"We did some good things out there, and I don't think the score was completely indicative of the game tonight," said head coach Colby Carthel who made his first trip back to Canyon since becoming the head coach of the Lions in January. "But this game shows us that we still have a lot of work to do. We fought back there late in the game and had a chance to make some noise, but that is a very good Buff team that showed why they are ranked fourth in the nation. We'll get there. They've been building this for eight years and we've only been at it for eight months."
West Texas A&M outgained A&M-Commerce 590 yards to 331 on the night, thanks in large part to 508 passing yards from quarterback Dustin Vaughan as the Buffs threw the ball 62 times on the night. For A&M-Commerce, Tyrik Rollison completed 15-of-29 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns while Harrison Stewart finished 3-of-8 for nine yards including a touchdown strike.
Rollison and Vernon Johnson connected three times for 137 yards, including the 75-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the game that gave the Lions the 7-0 lead just 10 seconds into the game. 10 different Lions caught passes on the night with Seth Smith matching Johnson's three catches for 36 yards.
A&M-Commerce tried to get its running game jump-started against the Buffs defense, rushing for just 65 yards on 32 carries. Aaron Fields led the way with 31 yards for the Lions on four carries with Ki-Janaven Garrett scampering nine times for 19 yards. Garrett also caught a flip pass from Rollison late in the first quarter, taking it 15 yards for a score to give the Lions the early 14-7 with 8:48 remaining in the first quarter.
But timely mistakes plagued A&M-Commerce all night. After the electrifying first play, the Lions had West Texas A&M stopped three times on third down on the Buffs ensuing drive, only to have defensive penalties negate the stop. The Buffs eventually made the Lions pay, tying the game at 7-7 with 10:43 remaining.
A&M-Commerce didn't appear to be phased, driving the length of the field and capping the effort with Garrett's touchdown to go back on top 14-7. But West Texas showed why it is the fourth-ranked team in the nation, rattling off 24 unanswered points to pull ahead 31-14 early in the third quarter.
The Lions made it a game late in the third as A&M-Commerce put together a seven-play, 82-yard drive which ended on Rollison's 11-yard pass to Johnson to cut the deficit to 31-21 and swinging momentum back to the A&M-Commerce sideline. However that momentum was extremely short lived as the Buffs returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, all but thwarting the Lions' comeback attempt.
West Texas A&M added a touchdown and a field goal early in the fourth to extend its lead to 48-21 before A&M-Commerce blocked a Buff punt attempt and recovered deep in West Texas A&M's territory. Three plays later, Stewart found Jenkins at the back of the endzone for both players' first touchdowns as Lions and the lead was cut to 48-28. But the Buffs added two more late touchdowns, sealing the 62-28 victory in front of 11,126 fans.
Defensively, Marcus Fore led the way with nine tackles and a forced fumble for A&M-Commerce with Traven Johnson, Kristoddie Woods and Davarus Shores each adding five stops on the night. West Texas A&M did a good job at limiting pressure on Vaughan as the Lions, who came into the game leading the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, managed just one sack and two tackles for loss on the evening.
One of the major stories on the evening was a number of penalties amassed by both teams. A&M-Commerce racked up 13 penalties for 122 yards, but that paled in comparison to West Texas A&M's 24 penalties for 238 yards on the night.
With the emotional trip to Canyon now in the Lions' rearview mirror, A&M-Commerce sets its sights on its third ranked opponent in as many weeks when it battles 25th-ranked Midwestern State next Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Mustangs are coming off a 38-28 victory at West Georgia and will be making their first trip to Commerce since 2005. Opening kick is set for 6 p.m.