The Texas A&M University-Commerce football team etched their names into history with a 37-27 win over West Florida in the NCAA Division II National Championship game. The Lions had nearly 500 yards of total offense and never trailed in the game.
It is the first NCAA Division II National Championship in school history and the second National Championship in Lion football history, 45 years after the Lions won the 1972 NAIA National Championship.
The Lions are the first team in the Lone Star Conference to win a Division II Football National Championship since 1981 and the only current team in the LSC to hoist the trophy.
INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
- Harlon Hill trophy winner Luis Perez threw had 23 completions for 323 yards and two touchdowns. During the first quarter, he broke a Division II record for most passing yards in a single post season. He also became the first player in school history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
- Reggie Kincade returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. This tied a Division II National Championship game record for the longest return.
- E.J. Thompson rushed for 110 yards and rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter.
- Shawn Hooks had 104 yards receiving, including a 50-yard touchdown catch and run in the first quarter.
- Marquis Wimberly had 64 yards receiving, including a 40-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Vincent Hobbs had five catches for 71 yards.
- Kristov Martinez made all three of his field goals and all four of his extra points.
- Jalon Edwards-Cooper had an interception in the second quarter. The Lions overcame four turnovers in the game.
- Alex Shillow had 1.5 tackles for loss. Brucks Saathoff, DD Fletcher, Michael Onuoha, Peyton Searcy and Jaylon Hodge all had sacks in the game.
- The Lions had 201 more yards in the game, winning both the air and the ground battle. The Lions had three touchdowns of at least 40 yards.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After a crafty UWF kickoff pinned the Lions deep in their own territory to begin the game, a rush from Hale gave the Lions some breathing room. Perez then found Hobbs for 28 yards. After dragging a defender five yards, he was stopped at midfield. It took just one more play to score as Perez found Hooks on the right side. A hole opened up and a downfield block from Wimberley sprung Hooks to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown. The Lions took a 7-0 lead.
The Lion defense also had a good showing on their first opportunity on the field, causing a UWF three and out. The Lions took the ball but were also forced to bring out the punting team. The Lions faked the punt but a pass from Perry was intercepted and returned to midfield, giving the Argos good field position.
UWF took advantage and got a drive going. Passes of 11 and 15 yards moved the sticks inside the one yard line. It took the Argos two plays to score, but they punched the ball in to tie the game at 7.
The game didn't stay tied for long as Kincade took the kickoff at the one yard line. He cut through a hole on the left, ran toward the left sideline and showed off his All-American sprinter speed, racing around one final defender and down the sideline. The 99-yard touchdown return tied an NCAA Division II Championship game record for the longest in history and gave the Lions a 14-7 lead.
The Lion defense again held firm, forcing another Argonaut punt after just three plays.
The Lions then started to drive as Perez found Landry down the right sideline. He stumbled forward inside the red zone before losing his footing. The Lions were unable to punch the ball into the end zone as Martinez was called upon to kick a field goal. The 29-yard kick was good and the Lions led 17-7 early in the second quarter.
The Lion defense again made a play. Flushing the UWF quarterback to the right outside the pocket, he threw an errant pass right into the arms of Edwards-Cooper. He returned the ball 11 yards and set the Lion offense up inside of midfield.
UWF's defense held the Lions once they entered the red zone. A Lion penalty also drove A&M-Commerce back and they again had to kick a field goal. Martinez split the uprights again and the Lions led 20-7.
The teams traded punts on their subsequent possessions. UWF then looked for more points on their final drive of the half. The Argos drove into Lion territory. A sack from Onuoha forced a long third down but UWF converted a 16-yard pass to move the chains. After another 15-yard pass completion, the Argos got into the end zone on a 20-yard catch. The Lion lead was cut to 20-14 with 58 seconds remaining.
The Lions looked for one more drive to end the half. Perez hit passes of 12 and 18 yards to put the Lions close to field goal position. However, two UWF sacks ended the half with the score at 20-14.
LION HALFTIME STATS
- Perez was 15-of-18 in the first half for 195 yards and a touchdown.
- Carandal Hale had 12 carries for 64 yards.
- Hobbs had four receptions for 60 yards.
- Kincade returned a touchdown 99 yards for a touchdown.
The Lion defense forced an Argo punt on UWF's first possession of the half. The Lions got the ball back but a Hale fumble on the first play gave the Argonauts the ball back inside of the red zone. The Lion defense held true, with Searcy sacking the quarterback on third down to hold UWF to a field goal. The Lions led 20-17.
Thompson had two eight-yard rushes and Perez hit Hobbs for 11 yards to take the Lions into enemy territory on their next drive. Perez then found Wimberly for 11 yards to take the Lions into the red zone. Thompson finished off the drive, rushing up a huge hole in the middle to give the Lions a 27-17 lead.
After the Lion defense forced a punt on UWF's next possession, the Lions again started a promising drive. However, the Argo defense then made a play. Andre Duncombe made a one-handed interception of Perez. A personal foul penalty against the Lions gave the Argos a short field. The Lion defense buckled down to hold UWF to a field goal. The Lions led 27-20.
The Lions took the next kickoff and moved their way down the field with ease. Thompson had two rushes before Perez hit Wimberly on a perfect throw for a 40-yard touchdown pass. This gave the Lions a 34-20 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
After the Lion defense forced another punt on UWF's next possession, the Lions again drove down the field. Thompson had a 19-yard rush as the Lions had five consecutive rushes. Perez then found Hooks cutting across the field. He cut around defenders, being tripped up inside the 10-yard line after a 43-yard catch and run. The Lions were unable to get the ball into the end zone and settled for a 19-yard field goal from Martinez, giving them a 37-20 lead, their largest of the game.
UWF drove for a touchdown of their own on the next possession. The Lions had two pass interference penalties before UWF hit a 38-yard pass inside the red zone. Two plays later, a rusher crossed the goal line, cutting the Lion lead to 37-27 with less than five minutes to play.
UWF attempted an onside kick but was unsuccessful. The Lions ran on their first two plays to force UWF to use their timeouts. The Lions punted, pinning the Argonauts deep inside their own territory with 4:20 to play.
UWF had a 33-yard pass on its second play of the drive. Two plays later, D.J. White looked to have the dagger with an interception. However, replay review changed the call and the Argos continued their drive. The Lion defensive front continued to harass the UWF quarterback and the Lions had stellar play in the secondary. Edwards-Cooper had a pass breakup on third down and the defense held on fourth down to force a turnover on downs.
The Lions needed one first down to ice the game and turned to Thompson. On three carries, he gained just enough yards for a first down, allowing the Lions to end the game in victory formation.