Texas A&M-Commerce had this celebration planned for a long time.
A year after watching the Division II title game from the stands, Luis Perez led the Lions to their first NCAA Division II title and second football championship. He threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-27 victory over West Florida on Saturday night in Kansas City, Kan.
Texas A&M-Commerce (14-1) also won the 1972 NAIA championship.
“No words can describe it,” Perez said. “Winning the title, getting the Harlon Hill (Award) and graduating in the same week, you can’t script it any better.”
Perez said before the game that he had driven up to watch the 2016 championship game because he had a feeling he and his teammates had a chance to be there the next year. He did his part to make sure that happened.
“We were a team of destiny,” Perez said. “We just believed it.”
Perez completed 23 of 30 passes. He is the first quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in the title game since 2005. He finished the season with 4,999 passing yards.
West Florida (11-4) was playing in the 26th game in the two-year history of the program.
Mike Beaudry was 22 of 48 for 252 yards and a touchdown for the Argonauts.
“They’re good up front,” Beaudry said, “and they did a really good job of getting pressure. It’s on me to slow things down and work my progressions. It’s something I can do better at.”
E.J. Thompson’s 9-yard touchdown run put the Lions up 27-17 midway through the third quarter. After a West Florida field goal, Perez hit Marquis Wimberly with a 40-yard pass to open up a two-touchdown lead at the end of the third quarter.
Commerce dominated the stats, outgaining the Argonauts 477 to 276 in total yards, but four Lions turnovers kept West Florida in the game. The Argos managed just 13 points off those turnovers.
AP coach of the year: Central Florida’s Scott Frost, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney are the finalists for The Associated Press coach of the year award. The winner will be announced Monday.
Frost led the Knights to an unbeaten regular season before taking the Nebraska job. He plans to coach UCF in the Peach Bowl against Auburn.
Smart, in his second season with Georgia, guided the Bulldogs to a 12-1 record and their first Southeastern Conference championship since 2005. Georgia will face Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
Swinney has the defending national champion Tigers back in the playoff for a third straight year. Clemson won the Atlantic Coast Conference, finished 12-1 and will face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.