West Texas A&M head coach Hunter Hughes doesn’t agree with a call during the Buffs Lone Star Conference game against Texas A&M-Commerce on Saturday at Buffalo Stadium. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
It was a second straight heartbreaking home loss for West Texas A&M, falling to No. 23-ranked Texas A&M-Commerce 34-20 in front of announced crowd of 6,734 fans on J Ferg Field at Buffalo Stadium Saturday night.
This is a crucial loss for a WT team fighting for its NCAA Division II playoff life.
WT falls to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Lone Star Conference, making the hill to climb that much steeper for a Buff team that came in 10th in the initial Super 4 Regional Rankings last Monday.
“It’s frustrating,” said WT coach Hunter Hughes, who is 0-3 against TAMC in his three seasons. “Our team is hurting. We feel we’re good enough to be in the playoffs, but we shot ourselves in the foot. I don’t feel we’re out of the playoff hunt. There’s a lot of football left, and we have to go win two games.”
For a second straight home game, the loss came down to controversial calls that didn’t go in the Buffs favor.
Trailing 20-13 midway through the second quarter, WT faced fourth and goal at the Lions 4-yard line. Hughes elected to go for it. On the fourth down call, Quarterback Nick Gerber rolled right and found tight end Brock Gerlich who seemed to come down with the catch in the back of the endzone. However, when Gerlich hit the ground and rolled, the ball came out, and the officials signaled incomplete, turning the ball back to TAMC.
“Looks like Brock has to finish the play,” Hughes said. “I thought he had possession with his feet down, but I guess it’s like the NFL. You have to complete the catch all the way through.”
With the game tied, 20-20, late in the third quarter, controversy struck again.
WT had the ball on the Lions 5-yard line. Receiver Semaj Mitchell was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the side judge on the TAMC sideline. Mitchell was blocking Lions cornerback and former WT player, Lee Anthony Dawson.
Mitchell and Dawson had an altercation on the ground after the play, which garnered the penalty.
That put WT back to the 20-yard line.
As the teams flipped ends to open the fourth quarter, the key WT drive eventually stalled out when quarterback Nick Gerber was sacked at the TAMC 27-yard line.
Hughes didn’t agree with the penalty on Mitchell, and let it known after the game.
“To call that penalty at the point of the game, in my opinion, is that official wanting to make a statement,” Hughes said. “He wanted to be seen. In that process one of their guys [Commerce player] comes slamming into our guys. The officials lost control of the game. It was a bad call.”
As for trying a field goal to take the lead, the Buffs were heading into a south wind, and Hughes didn’t feel comfortable with his kicker, Mauricio Gonzalez, in that situation.
“I asked our kicker if he could make it from 45-yards,” Hughes said. “He said no. Everyone told me going that direction that 30 to 35 yards was all they had in that wind. So we went the other way.”
TAMC took the momentum from that point forward, taking the ensuing drive 82 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a quarterback Miklo Smalls 11-yard touchdown run with 8:40 left in the game.
After the Buffs went three and out, the Lions sealed the win on a Kelan Smith 24 yard catch from Smalls with four minutes remaining.
Lions quarterback Miklo Smalls gets set to deliver a pass over West Texas A&M defensive lineman Dillon Mata. [Keirstyn Kelley/ Press Pass Sports]
Smalls was clutch down the stretch for TAMC, which improves to 7-2 overall and 5-1.
Smalls started slow but finished strong, going 18 of 28 for 214 yards while also rushing for 36 yards.
The WT offense didn’t have its best day, struggling against the Lions front and secondary. Gerber was intercepted three times, one of which was returned for a score by Felipe Chambers.
Another TAMC score came on a blocked punt in the second quarter by Jemal Williams, who returned it 7-yards for a touchdown, giving TAMC a 20-7 lead.
The WT offense did fight back. Gerber connected to PJ Leonce for a TD early in the second quarter.
In the third, Jordan Johnson rushed for a TD to tie the game.
WT travels to Texas A&M-Kingsville for an LSC matchup next Saturday.
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