KANSAS CITY — The Texas A&M University-Commerce Lion football team won their first NCAA National Championship in school history Saturday night with a 37-27 victory over the West Florida Argonauts.
The title makes A&M-Commerce only the second team to win football national titles in both the NAIA and NCAA.
The Lions were backed by a raucous crowd at Children’s Mercy Park as they took the lead early with a 50-yard catch-and-run by Shawn Hooks in his first action in multiple weeks. The Argos did answer late in the first, but were burned on the ensuing kickoff as Reggie Kincade showcased his sprinting talents with a 99-yard touchdown return. After a pair of Kristov Martinez field goals, West Florida climbed back into close contention with a score in the game’s final minute, leaving the Lions with a 20-14 lead at halftime.
A&M-Commerce began to take control in the second half and stretched their lead to as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Argonauts launched a solid comeback effort with a score in the final five minutes, but the Lions defense prevailed and the teal closed out their first NCAA National Championship in school history.
Argos’ quarterback Mike Beaudry was put under immense pressure all night, and was sacked five times by the Lion defense. He completed 22 of 48 passes for one score and one interception. Receiver Antoine Griffin hauled in eight of those passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. West Florida struggled on the ground, with Chris Schwarz gaining 45 yards on 14 carries, but he also found the end zone twice.
Harlon Hill-winner Perez completed 23 of 30 passes for 323 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Perez becomes the first quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards in a national championship game since 2005. E. J. Thompson gained 110 yards on 21 carries to go with a score. Martinez converted three field goals in the game, which tied a record for most made in a championship game. Martinez also tied the Lone Star Conference record for most field goals made in a season with 24. The Lions overcame four turnovers to win the contest.
The Lions finish off the season at 14-1, the most wins in any single season in A&M-Commerce football history.