Scott Goode, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Media
COMMERCE, Texas – An incredible run that began with three straight losses followed by an improbable 11-game winning streak came to end Saturday with a 31-17 loss to No. 8 Texas A&M-Commerce in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Playoffs. It was the deepest postseason run in program history.
Commerce (13-1) advanced to meet West Florida, a team in only its second season of football, next Saturday in the national championship game in Kansas City.
Harding (11-4) battled from behind from midway through the second quarter on and pulled to within one score at 24-17 on a 30-yard field goal by Tristan Parsley with 4:40 remaining.
The Bisons needed one stop to have a chance to regain possession and tie the game. But Commerce quarterback Luis Perez hit D’Arthur Cowan on a screen pass on the first play of the next drive. Cowan broke a tackle and raced 90 yards for the game’s final score.
Texas A&M-Commerce led 14-7 at halftime.
Harding scored on its first drive of the game, needing only three plays to go 75 yards with Grant Kimberlin taking a pitch around the left side and racing 51 yards for a touchdown.
Commerce responded with a seven-play, 63-yard scoring drive. Lion quarterback Luis Perez completed all six of his passing attempts on the drive, and backup quarterback Gabe Rodriguez finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Lions took their first lead of the game with 5:28 left in the second quarter. A Tristan Parsley 42-yard punt pinned Commerce on its own 1. Three plays later, Commerce had 4th-and-1 at its own 10, and punter Tristan Perry completed an 18-yard pass to Vincent Hobbs to keep the drive going.
Commerce completed the 99-yard scoring drive on a 3-yard pass from Perez to Hobbs.
The only points of the third quarter came on Commerce’s first drive of the third quarter. The Lions drove to the Harding 15 before the drive stalled, and Kristov Martinez kicked a 32-yard field goal to give Commerce a 17-7 lead.
Harding cut the lead to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter. Freshman Cole Chancey scored on a 1-yard run after Bison linebacker Shedrick Robinson recovered a fumble near midfield.
Commerce went back up by 10 points with 8:54 left in the game. Carandal Hale scored on an 11-yard run that capped an 88-yard drive, giving the Lions a 24-14 lead.
Facts and Figures
Parsley had an 83-yard punt in the second quarter that broke the previous Harding record of 82 yards by Andrew Patton against Southwestern Oklahoma in 1999.
Harding rushed for 260 yards on 64 carries, its 28th straight game over 200 rushing yards. Kimberlin led Harding with 107 yards on nine carries, his fifth 100-yard game of the season. Kimberlin also had three receptions for 60 yards. His 167 all-purpose yards were a career high.
Chancey rushed for 98 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown. He finished the season with 1,337 rushing yards, second most in an HU single season.
Commerce had 396 total yards, 295 passing and 101 on the ground. Perez was 24-of-34 for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
Sam Blankenship had seven tackles to lead Harding and finished the season with 130 tackles.
Harding is 24-5 over the last two seasons with a national quarterfinal appearance and a national semifinal appearance.