SUGAR LAND – Tompkins junior running back Marquis Shoulders said he only learned shortly before game time that he would be starting the Falcons’ Class 6A-Division I bi-district playoff game against undefeated Fort Bend Travis on Thursday, Nov. 14, but he played like he had been preparing for the opportunity all year.

Shoulders had 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 35-28 win at Mercer Stadium. The night could have been even bigger for Shoulders, but a 45-yard touchdown was called back because of a holding call.

It was a breakout performance for the elusive and speedy back, who has mostly spent the year backing up senior star R.J. Smith.

“Since I was playing a lot, I was just in the flow of the game,” Shoulders said, attributing his success to his offensive line. “They’re working hard and moving everybody out of the way and making holes for me. It was good.”

The O-line also gave junior quarterback Jalen Milroe all night to pass. The Texas verbal commit wasn’t sacked on 16 passing attempts, although he struggled in the first half with three interceptions, attempting to force plays.

Milroe still finished with 226 yards, three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He also iced the game with a 25-yard completion to wideout Gabe Atkin, which came on third down in the fourth quarter with 2:20 remaining.

Tompkins coach Todd McVey said he was pleased with the push the offensive line was getting, in protecting the pocket for Milroe and opening holes for Shoulders.

“They’ve been getting better every week, and they take great pride in what they do,” McVey said. “They did a great job for Marquis and keeping Jalen off the turf, as we like to say. They’re very prideful about that and I was really happy with their effort tonight.”

McVey didn’t elaborate on why he started Shoulders over Smith, who entered the game with 1,021 yards rushing and 21 rushing touchdowns. Against Travis, Smith only had one carry for nine yards.

“He’s okay,” McVey said of Smith, when asked if his lead tailback was injured. “He’ll be ready (next week). He’s just out this week.”

While Tompkins controlled the middle portion of the game, the Falcons at first struggled to match the pace of the Tigers. Tompkins received the opening kickoff, but the drive ended at the Tigers’ 39-yard line after an interception.

Travis used a six-play drive to quickly cover 61 yards in about two minutes and took a 7-0 lead. Tompkins answered almost immediately with a touchdown, a 55-yard inside run by Shoulders, but Travis took the lead again on a 1-yard QB keeper by Eric Rodriguez with 10:44 left in the first half.

However, that was the last lead the Tigers would hold. The Falcons forced three punts before the end of the half and scored 28 straight points over the next three quarters to take a 35-14 lead.

McVey said he knew it would take time for his team to adjust to live football after a ‘bye’ week to end the regular season, especially since Travis played as a faster tempo. Rodriguez kept the Tigers alive with 20 carries for 135 yards, with three 20-plus yard gains coming after he avoided the Tompkins pass rush and scrambled.

“We’ve been off a week, so getting back to game speed, I told them it would take a bit to get back to that, and we’re facing a really good football team,” McVey said. “You can say it all week, but then it happens that fast. Our defensive staff does a great job of keeping the kids calm and just making the adjustments on the sideline.”

The Falcons also survived a late scare from the Tigers. Tompkins went up 35-14 with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard keeper by Milroe. However, it only took 61 seconds and five plays for Travis to go 64 yards for a touchdown.

After a three-and-out by Tompkins, the Falcons punted from their 41-yard line but only gained 13 yards of field position from the short kick. Rodriguez completed a 50-yard touchdown pass to get the Tigers within a touchdown.

At that point though, the Falcons were able to re-establish control by using the clock, and also with gutsy play-calling. Facing third-and-6 with 2:20 left, Tompkins elected to pass and Milroe hit Atkin in stride down the right sideline.

Travis didn’t have any timeouts left, but curiously didn’t allow Tompkins to score to get the ball back. Instead, Shoulders and Milroe combined for three carries for seven yards, and the game clock ran out.

Tompkins (10-1) faces Cy-Falls (10-1) in the area round next week. The two will play at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at Legacy Stadium.