Special to the News-Telegram
Copperas Cove, Texas – A&M-Commerce’s record breaking season came to an end just the way it started with a record-breaking win as the Lions routed East Central 72-21 in the Heart of Texas Bowl led by the bowl’s most valuable player, Tyrik Rollison, who threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns, Saturday night at Bulldawg Stadium.
“It was great to get a win to end the year for this special group of 29 seniors that helped turned this program around with the best two-year turn around in school history and that is a credit to our players, especially those seniors,” A&M-Commerce head coach Colby Carthel said. “It was a lot of fun. We brought a lot more than the 60 players allowed for conference games, and everyone got to play tonight. Some of those guys that never get to play made some big plays late, and I was excited for them. Those extra three weeks helps our program in more ways than just preparing for the bowl game, and we expect to see that next fall.”
Rollison, the triggerman for the NCAA’s best scoring offense, was brilliant completing 18 of his 33 passes for his 460 yards and four TDs. Receivers, Ricky Collins, Seth Smith and Vernon Johnson, made Rollison’s night easy as the trio accounted for 416 yards on 16 catches.
Rollison connected with Johnson for a 61-yard pass on the Lions first possession and first play from scrimmage setting the tone for the evening. The strike was the duo’s second longest of the night and the offense’s third longest play from scrimmage by the time the final horn sounded.
The Lions reeled off 21 unanswered points -- Deric Davis connected on two short scores with one to Collins and one to John Thomas -- before the Tigers got on the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter.
The Rollison to Johnson connection opened the second quarter with a 71-yard catch and run lifting the Lion lead out to 28-7. The touchdown was Johnson’s final of the game and final of his illustrious Lion career. He finished with 191 yards on just four catches in the game. In two seasons, Johnson caught 147 passes including a single-season record 77 this season. He finished with a whopping 2,608 yards. He covered 1,258 yards in 2014 after setting the school record in 2013 with 1,345 yards.
The Tigers set up their second scoring drive of the game following a nifty 41-yard punt return by Brad Davis with a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on against the Lions giving the ball to ECU at the A&M-Commerce 4-yardline. The Tigers needed all four downs to move just the four yards but punched it in for the score cutting the lead down to 30-13. However, on the ensuing PAT, the Lions blocked the try and Dointe Taylor scooped up the lose football and scampered the other way for the defensive two-point conversion.
Taylor was stellar on special teams and defensively for the Lions finishing the game with four solo tackles, a defensive two-point score, one pass break up and two INTs. His first pick came in the second quarter after he leaped up to pick off the pass and tight roped the sideline to get both feet in bounds. His second INT came at the end of third quarter. Taylor jumped the ECU receiver’s rout and dashed 95-yards down the sideline for the pick six.
The Lions added two more scores before the half. The first came on a Seth Smith screen pass that turned into a 79-yard score following some great down field blocking and shifty running by the senior receiver. Smith finished with five catches for 113 yards and the lone touchdown. Smith, who spent all four years with the Lions, ended his career with 39 games played, 129 catches for 1,734 yards and 16 TDs. The final score of the half was a Deric Davis three-yard run as the Lions took a 44-13 lead into the intermission.
After a quiet start to the third quarter, A&M-Commerce exploded for 21 points over the final seven minutes of the frame. Richard Cooper found pay dirt with a 10-yard run for the first score, and Rollison found Collins for a 58-yard score for the second. Collins’ caught his second TD of the game and his 14th of the season snapping the A&M-Commerce single-season receiving TD record previously set by Johnson in 2013 with 14. Collins ended the game with a team-high seven catches for 112 yards. Taylor’s 95-yard pick six was the final score of the quarter giving the Lions a 65-13 lead.
East Central notched their final points of the ballgame ending an eight-play, 57-yard drive with Spencer bond one-yard run. The Tigers connected on the two-point conversion to trim the margin down to 65-21, but the Lions weren’t done. Theo Wofford answered for the Lions and scored the record setting 72nd points of the game for the Lions with a seven-yard run giving the game the final score of 72-21.
The 72 points Saturday night gave the Lions a 54.1 points per game average on the season – a mark the is the highest in the NCAA Division II this season and second highest mark in the whole NCAA. It is also a new A&M-Commerce single-season points per game record and an LSC single-season points per game record snapping the old mark of 52.3 set by Abilene Christian in 2008. The Lions ended the season with 649 total points for a new school record, but also the second LSC record to fall during the game. The old mark was held by West Texas with 645 points set in 2013.
A&M-Commerce reeled off 613 total yards aided by 480 yards through the air. Rollison’s 460 yards gave him 3,763 yards for the season for a new A&M-Commerce single-season record. He is the first player to throw for 3,000 yards while wearing the blue and gold. He also ends with 31 touchdown passes this year for another school mark. His 43 for his career in two season is just eight shy of the A&M-Commerce all-time mark. However his name will be in the career record books after averaging 315.4 yards passing after a single-season mark of 342.2 yards per game in 2014. He will also go down as the school’s all-time most accurate passer completing 343 of his 550 career passes for 62.4 percent.
“It was great team win tonight and I could not have done it without the other ten guys on the field,” Rollison said. “We came in here two years ago with not much to go off of after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Coach Carthel he told us what he was looking for and we bought into the program. I see it continuing to go up. We have a great of young this year that know how to play and will continue to develop for the Lions.”
ECU finished with just 397 yards of offense highlighted by 306 yards passing. The Lions allowed just 97 yards on the ground marking the second time this season the defense has held a team under 100 rushing yards.
The defense turned in a stellar performance with 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. The secondary also picked off five passes with Steven Baker, Darian Lindsey and Ronald Fields all getting in on the action. Izzy Eziakor led the way with eight total tackles, while Myles Curl, Charles Woods and Tre’von Taylor each had six tackles. Taylor, who already set the single-game sack record and tied the single-game tackle for loss record earlier this season, accounted for two tackles for a loss on two sacks. Curl led the team with two and a half tackles for loss.
The Lions finished year two of the Carthel era following back-to-back postseason appearances after 16 wins in two years. The 9-3 record in 2014 is the highest win total since the 1990 squad went 10-3. The three losses is also lowest total since the 1990 season 24 years ago. The last time A&M-Commerce finished the season on a winning note in the postseason was way back in 1972 when then East Texas State won the NAIA National Championship with a 21-18 win over Carson Newman.
Fans can follow all the action from the 2014-15 season on www.LionAthletics.com, through twitter @Lion_Athletics and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LionsAthletics.