No. 21 A&M-Commerce upsets conference rival Tarleton State in first round of NCAA playoffs; advance to Regional Semi-Finals

Tyler McDonough and Mikayla Maldonado

Defensive Tackle Pierre Leonard hypes the crowd up during the Lions victory over Tarleton State | Photo by Mikayla Maldonado

By Tyler McDonough | Sr. Sports Reporter

In football, it is extremely difficult to beat a team multiple times in a season, especially when a
coach such as David Bailiff is at the helm. That is exactly what happened in Stephenville this
past Saturday as the No. 23 Texas A&M University-Commerce Lions defeated the No. 3
nationally ranked Tarleton State Texans 23-16.


A&M-Commerce made tremendous adjustments from the last time these two teams met back
in week seven. The Lions gave up only 56 yards rushing, shutting down Khalil Banks and Thomas McDonald, a much better showing than the previous 200 yards they gave up on the ground in week seven.


Head Coach David Bailiff said after the game “We knew this was going to be an incredible
football game, we knew that they were extremely well coached, and we knew how dynamic
they have been offensively and defensively. We knew we needed to get an edge in special
team, and we thought we could get an edge there.”


The Lions started the game off slow, as quarterback Miklo Smalls was intercepted on just the
third play of the game, when a miscommunicated ball to wide receiver Chance Cooper was overthrown. The Lion defense showed up big time to start the game, holding the Texans to just a field goal.


Smalls responded on the next drive, completing a deep ball to Cooper for 26-yards, and also
picking up a crucial third and two with his legs as he scampered for 18 yards. Smalls marched the Lions down the field and eventually punched in a touchdown with 8:08 left in the first quarter to take a 7-3 lead.


Tarleton State quarterback Ben Holmes was not going to let Smalls have all the fun, as the
Texans and company responded with an 11-play drive that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown
pass to Camron Lewis to take a 10-7 lead late in the first quarter.


Bailiff mentioned after the game how crucial special teams was, and was it ever. Jake Viquez
knocked in a big field goal in some difficult crosswinds from 46-yards out on the first play of the
second quarter. The Lions called on Viquez once again after holding Tarleton to three straight punts. Viquez knocked down a 32-yard field goal to give A&M-Commerce a 13-10 lead with 8:10 in the second quarter.


On the topic of special teams, Kader Kohou was also big in the return game, filling in for an
injured Dominique Ramsey, as he knotted five returns in total (punt/kickoff) for 84 yards, putting the Lions in great field position every time he touched the ball.


The A&M-Commerce special teams came up big once more right before the half, as the defense
caused Tarleton State kicker Christian Hernandez to snap hook a 39-yard field goal wide left.


The Lion defense got another important stop at the beginning of the second half, as A&M-
Commerce held the Texans to a field goal attempt, stopping Tarleton State just shy of the
redzone. Hernandez once again had trouble with the wind, hooking another kick wide left.


The next possession was big for Smalls, as he was attempting to give A&M-Commerce a
two-score lead, but the Lions had to settle for another field goal, as Viquez drilled a 41-yarder.
Tarleton State responded and finally knocked down a field goal to cut the Lion lead to 16-13.


The Lions next possession was huge. On second-and-10 from the Lion 25-yard line, Smalls broke free and scampered for 60-yards to the Tarleton 15-yard line. A couple of plays later running back Jemal Williams punched in a 9-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 23-13 lead with 3:12 in the third quarter.


After a few drives from both teams and no scores, Tarleton State found themselves with the
ball down 10 with 6:58 in the fourth. Strangely the Texans seemed to be in no hurry and their
season hanging by a thread, marched down the field to the Lion one-yard line. The Lion defense
arguably made the biggest stop of the season, as Alex Shillow broke through the line tackling
Banks for a loss. Tarleton threw an incomplete pass on second down, Holmes was tackled for
no gain on third down, and the Texans had to settle for a field goal to trail the Lions 23-26 with
1:45 remaining.


All out of options, Tarleton had to attempt an onside kick, but an illegal touching penalty gave
the ball to the Lions. One first down by Williams secured the upset for A&M-Commerce, as
Smalls kneeled out the clock to take home a 23-16 victory.


With the win, the Lions move to 10-2 on the season, clinching the fourth straight season A&M-
Commerce has won 10 or more games. A&M-Commerce moves on to Colorado School of Mines
to take on the third seeded Orediggers from Super Region IV. The game will be in Golden,
Colorado just outside of Denver, with kickoff starting at Noon MST (1 p.m. CST) this Saturday.