Lions keep magical run alive, advancing to National Semifinal with 31-21 win over No. 1 Minnesota State
By Texas A&M University-Commerce
Dec 3, 2017
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MANKATO, Minn. The Texas A&M University-Commerce football team scored the game's final 10 points to pull away from Minnesota State University for a 31-21 victory in the NCAA Division II National Quarterfinal game at Blakeslee Stadium.
The Lions ranked eighth in the nation and the region's fifth seed are the Super Region Four champions and advance to the NCAA Division II Semifinals on Saturday, December 9, with the date and opponent to be announced later.
A&M-Commerce will carry a 12-1 record into the national semifinals, setting a school record for wins in a season. Minnesota State ranked first in the nation and the region's second seed sees its season ends with a record of 13-1.
This is the first time the Lions have advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinal in any sport. This is also the first time the Lions have defeated a team ranked No. 1 in the nation in football action.
- The Lions gained 360 yards of offense on 69 plays for an average of 5.2 yards per play. A&M-Commerce gained 103 rushing yards on the nation's top rushing defense.
- The Lions' 31 points scored are the most Minnesota State has allowed in the last 18 games.
- Quarterback Luis Perez completed 28-of-41 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown. He was not sacked.
- E.J. Thompson had 14 carries for 70 yards and a 19-yard touchdown carry. Carandal Hale had 10 carries for 41 yards and nine receptions for 52 yards.
- Marquis Wimberly had five catches for 79 yards and a 30-yard touchdown.
- Kristov Martinez was perfect in the kicking game with three field goals of 37, 35, and 48 yards. The 48-yarder in the fourth quarter gave the Lions the lead for good and was his 50th career field goal, setting a new school record.
- Tristan Perry averaged 40.1 yards on seven punts with a long of 49 yards and two inside the Mavericks' 20-yardline.
- Buck Wilson scored an 80-yard touchdown on his first career punt return.
- Linebacker Garrett Blubaugh led all tacklers with 15 stops in the game.
The homestanding Mavericks got on the scoreboard first with a touchdown on their first drive. Ryan Schlichte completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Ty Dennis to give MSU a 7-0 lead just 2:40 into the game.
After the teams traded punts, the Lions were able to match the Mavericks' score. A&M-Commerce went 76 yards in six plays thanks to long completions to Wilson (16 yards) and D'Arthur Cowan (23 yards). Thompson broke through multiple tackles on the way to a 19-yard touchdown carry, tying the game at 7-7 with 5:56 to play in the first quarter.
On their next drive, the Lions took advantage of solid field position after a punt and took the 10-7 lead on a 37-yard field goal by Martinez with 1L56 left in the opening quarter.
Minnesota State responded in kind, as a long drive only resulted in a 25-yard Casey Bednarski field goal. The game was tied 10-10 with 11:50 left in the half.
Both teams punted twice before the tie was broken again. The Lions went 41 yards in eight plays, and a 35-yard field goal by Martinez put the guests ahead 13-10 with 1:45 to go.
The Lions held MSU to a punt, but the return was fumbled at the Lion 26-yardline, giving the hosts new life before the break. Three plays later, Schlichte found Dennis over the top for a 24-yard touchdown pass. A substitution penalty brought the ball a yard closer to the goal line, and the Mavericks converted on the two-point attempt to put MSU up by an 18-13 count at the halftime break.
The even game saw MSU outgain the Lions by only seven yards, 219-212, at halftime.
A&M-Commerce flipped the game on its head after the second possession of the third quarter. Bednarski boomed a 46-yard punt. Wilson fielded it at the 20-yardline and broke multiple tackles on the way to an 80-yard touchdown. Hale carried in the two-point conversion to put the Lions up 21-18.
The teams traded punts through the third quarter. The Mavericks were driving deep into Lion territory before A&M-Commerce sacked Schlichte on third down to force a field goal attempt. Bednarski hit the 40-yarder to tie the game with 13:09 to play.
The Lions set up the next score on a 59-yard kickoff return by Reggie Kincade. The Lion drive resulted in a field goal attempt. Martinez drilled a career-long 48-yarder to give the Lions the 24-21 lead with 11:29 to play. The kick was his 50th career field goal, setting a new school record.
After holding the Mavericks to a three-and-out, the Lions manufactured a seven-play, 67-yard drive that would seal the game. Perez completed a short pass to Wimberly, who made a defender miss, then darted towards the endzone and dove for the pylon. His 30-yard touchdown catch-and-run put the Lions up 31-21 with 6:47 to play.
Bednarski missed a 51-yard field goal attempt on the Mavericks' next drive and the Lions were able to run the clock down to 1:54. Perry's punt was downed at the MSU 1-yardline, forcing the longest possible drive for the Mavericks.
The hosts were able to move downfield, but Huckaby's interception at the Lion 15-yardline put the result beyond doubt and set off the celebrations on the Lion side.