No. 6 Tarleton eliminates defending champion Lions, advances to third round

STEPHENVILLE – To be the best, you have to beat the best.

No. 6 Tarleton has proven all season they were the best team in the Lone Star Conference, but its biggest test yet came in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs and hosting the defending National Champions in No. 15 Texas A&M-Commerce.

In a historic season full of records and firsts, the record book just got bigger as the Texans have now advanced further than any team in program history with a 34-28 second-round victory over the Lions at Memorial Stadium.

The Texans improve to a school-record 12-0 and will travel to No. 1 Minnesota Mankato on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 12 p.m. CST for the NCAA Division II Super Region 4 finals.

The Texan defense came in with back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1964, but today might’ve been the most impressive performance of the season. The defense held the Lions to 15 points through three quarters on five field goals. They also limited the Lion rushing attack to -2 yards and had seven sacks in the game to go with three forced turnovers. The defense was able to overcome a season-high four Tarleton turnovers.

Offensively, Tarleton accounted for 556 yards, including 350 yards on the ground led by Daniel McCants’ 181 yards and two touchdowns. McCants now has 1,124 yards on the year joining Xavier Turner’s 1,391 yards and making the duo the first pair of teammates to top 1,000 yards in the same season in school history.

The first half was a defensive slugfest. The teams traded field goals midway through the second quarter as the Lions held a 6-3 lead. Turner, who ran for 85 yards on the day, gave Tarleton its first lead of the game at 10-7 on a 6-yard touchdown run with 2:23 left in the half. It was Turner’s 22nd touchdown on the season, tying him with Derrick Ross for the school record.

The Texans took a huge boost of momentum into the locker room as Holmes teamed up with DeShun Qualls on a 64-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left in the half to lead 17-6 at the break. Holmes finished the game 10-of-21 passing for 206 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 94 yards. Qualls was Holmes’ top receiver in the game, hauling in three passes for 91 yards to go with the score.

After a pair of Commerce field goals to cut the lead to 17-12, McCants scored on a nine-yard run to push the lead back to double digits. Joanly Martinez added his second field goal of the game to give the Texans a 27-15 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Ronnell Wilson intercepted the Lions in the end zone late in the third quarter to keep the score at a 12-point game. On the ensuing drive, McCants’ fourth quarter 43-yard touchdown run appeared to be the finishing touches to a one-sided win as the Texans went up 34-15 with 12:30 to play. But the Lions came storming back with a pair of touchdowns to make it a one-score game. Commerce had a chance to win the game on the final drive, but quarterback Kane Wilson was sacked and fumbled by B.J. Jefferson and Sean Walton and was recovered by David Fangupo to clinch the victory.

EJ Speed led the Texan defense with 11 tackles while Jai Edwards added 10. Six players recorded sacks for the Texans led by Tavaris Owens’ 2.5 sacks. B.J. Jefferson (1.5), Gary Moore (1), Jordan Phillips (1), Tyrell Thompson (0.5) and Sean Walton (0.5) all found their way to the Lion quarterback.

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