COMMERCE, Texas — When it comes to Eastern New Mexico University football this season, the slogan could be “never fear, the second half is near.”
ENMU continued the second-half domination it has shown most of the season on Saturday, holding Texas A&M-Commerce to just seven points in rallying for a 42-35 Lone Star Conference victory over the Lions and a share of the league title with Tarleton State.
ENMU (7-3, 5-1 LSC), which finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, shared LSC South crowns with Angelo State in 1999 and 2000 and last won a league championship in a non-divisional setup in 1991 under coach Don Carthel, the father of current Commerce coach Colby Carthel. It marks the first time the Hounds have won seven games in a season since going 8-3 in 2002.
They’re clinging to postseason hopes — either a long-shot NCAA Division II playoff berth or a spot in the new Heart of Texas Bowl on Dec. 7 at Copperas Cove, Texas — but the bowl possibility took a major hit when Tarleton was routed by Gulf South Conference member North Alabama 44-7 at home on Saturday.
West Texas A&M (9-2, 4-2) claimed third place with a 19-12 win at Midwestern State (7-3, 3-3). The Buffaloes have a good chance to make the playoffs — pairings will be announced this afternoon — while ENMU coach Josh Lynn believes Tarleton is likely to get the bowl bid, with pairings for that game to be announced on Monday.
With a 21-7 margin on Saturday, the Hounds outscored their 10 regular-season opponents 186-74 in the second half. Conversely, they were outscored 194-135 in the first half.
For the Hounds to make the playoffs, they would have to rise to the top six in the region. MSU, Tarleton and Chadron State, all teams ahead of them, lost on Saturday but they may need even more help to get in.
“I feel like we’ll be in the top 10 this week (in the region), but can we make it to the top six?” Lynn asked rhetorically. “It’s up to somebody else right now. I don’t know. It’s going to be an uphill battle.”
Sophomore quarterback Jeremy Buurma threw for three touchdowns, two to junior wide receiver Jacob Johnson, and senior fullback Christian Long carried 32 times for a 106 tough yards and three TDs.
Johnson finished with five catches for 107 yards, including a 14-yard TD grab early in the fourth quarter to push ENMU’s lead to 42-28. Freshman running back D’majeric Tucker added a game-high 107 yards rushing for ENMU on 14 carries.
“We ran the ball good all day, but one of the things that helped us was the play of Jacob Johnson,” Lynn said. “We needed some big-time catches and he went up and got them.”
Commerce (7-4, 2-4) pulled to within a touchdown on a 33-yard pass from Stewart to junior wide receiver Seth Smith — his third TD catch of the day — with 4:49 left. The Lions had the ball twice more, losing it on downs the first time before junior quarterback Harrison Stewart’s desperation heave from near midfield on the game’s final play was intercepted by senior cornerback Darrelyn McCloud in the end zone.
“We got real conservative the last seven minutes of the game,” Lynn said of his offense. “We got up two touchdowns and tried to take the air out of the ball.”
Commerce quarterback Harrison Stewart threw for 392 yards and five touchdowns. The ENMU defense, though, intercepted him twice and limited the Lions to 43 yards rushing on 15 attempts.