By BRAD KEITH
ODESSA (September 30, 2017) — Zed Woerner is the new career leader in touchdown passes at Tarleton State, and the Texan football team is alone atop the Lone Star Conference standings.
Explosive plays saved Tarleton (4-1, 3-0) again, as the Texan offense scored touchdowns covering 29, 56 and 76 yards while fourth defensive TD in as many weeks went a school-record tying 99 yards in an otherwise sloppy 32-17 win over UT-Permian Basin (1-4, 1-2) at Ratliff Stadium Saturday evening.
Woerner matched the 57 career touchdown passes by Scott Grantham of the 2007-09 Texans with a 29-yard strike for a 18-3 lead late in the third quarter, then set a new mark with a 76-yard play-action beauty beauty o the top of the Falcon defense to finish the scoring with just under five minutes remaining. Both milestone passes were to Jeff Thomas, who he hit six times for 132 yards.
Interview by Ryan Cox | Video by Savion Washington | Produced by Nate Bural
Tarleton Athletic Communications
Woerner, 11-17 for 168 yards, executed a play fake to Turner to momentarily freeze the cornerback long enough for Thomas to escape on a simple go route. It seemed the sigh of relief from the Tarleton faithful could be felt throughout the stadium as Woerner hit Thomas in stride to restore a two-possession lead.
Finally, the win felt secure after a stretch of three touchdowns – two by Tarleton, one by UTPB – on four plays from scrimmage. There were more offensive highlights in that stretch than the rest of the night combined, beginning with a 56-yard TD run by Xavier Turner. The reigning LSC offensive player of the week also had a 6-yard scoring run for a 12-3 Tarleton lead early in the third, giving him five TDs in two weeks.
The second Turner TD was a one-play scoring drive and made it 25-10 with 6:15 remaining. UTPB followed with its own one-play drive, with Mathis rolling right and somehow managing to keep part of his body behind the line of scrimmage while delivering a 78-yard TD to Kristian Brown.
The record-setting Woerner-to Thomas TD was the second play of he ensuing drive.
Tarleton defensive back Elliott Hart topped all those by 20 yards and then some back in the first half.
On first down at the one, UTPB ran QB power with Mathis, who reached the precipice of the goal line before having the ball jarred loose on a big hit by Hart, who scooped it up, struggled to get his footing on turf that was slick all night, especially during a rainy first half, but finally regained his balance and picked up blocks from his teammates as he traversed 98 yards for the second longest defensive TD in school history.
Tarleton scored seven points and UTPB none on the Falcons’ four trips into the red zone. They missed a 22-yard field goal and Mathis was stopped short of the goal line on another QB power in the first half, then he fired incompletion in the end zone on the final offensive play of the night for UTPB. Mathis was 15-33 for 244 yards and had a second TD against busted coverage that left Hunter Kliafas to run free on a post pattern he took 45 yards to the house.
Hart, who also had five tackles including one behind the line, gave Tarleton a 6-3 lead midway through the second, and the Texans led the rest of the way despite immense first-half struggles. The offensive line simply could not solve the riddle of UTPB’s near constant blitzing and stunting. Linebackers fired through gaps with ease, defensive backs charged into the backfield unimpeded and tackles and ends ran twist stunts and found clear paths to Woerner.
It all led to Tarleton gaining jut 38 total yards in the first half – 21 on 3-5 passing and only 17 on 21 rush attempts. It was tale of two halves offensively, as the Texans rolled up 244 yards after intermission. Still, they yielded 528 yards while producing only 282.
UTPB rushed for a school-record 284 yards, including 128 on 29 carries by workhorse Brandon Infiesto.
Defensively, the Texans were without star outside linebackers Basil Jackson and EJ Speed. Middle linebacker Michael Knobloch stepped up with 16 tackles, Marquis Lomax made his first career start and had 9 tackles including 1.5 for loss and cornerback Jackson Burrell fit well as basically a nickel defensive back against the spread at the other OLB spot. Burrell had three tackles.
Along the defensive line, Tyrell Thompson and Chase Varnado were impressive, Thompson with eight tackles, two for loss, a sack and a forced fumble and Varnado with seven tackles, one for loss and a sack.
Tarleton was out-gained by a similar margin at Angelo State two weeks ago, when they were saved by five takeaways and two defensive touchdowns. They had a defense touchdown, kick return for a TD and a couple long punt returns against Oklahoma Panhandle State and were even out-gained while maintaining a two-possession lead against WT last week. Only once during the four game win streak have the Texans finished with more yards than their opponent.
Explosive plays full of hidden yardage have been the difference in those games, and kept Tarleton a half-game ahead of No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce and No. 12 Midwestern State, both 2-0 in league games. Both those nationally-ranked opponents and Eastern New Mexico are still ahead on the schedule, but next up is the season’s longest bus trip to Silver City to face winless Western New Mexico, a 35-24 loser to MSU Saturday.
Western New Mexico has a prolific quarterback in Javia Hall, but has struggled outside his production. UTPB beat WNMU 41-32 on September 22, the first win by the Falcons against a Division II and LSC opponent, in just their second year of competing in the sport.
The 98-yard fumble return by Hart is the longest since Devin Figures set the school record iwth a 99-yard scoop and score against McMurry in 2014.
Injuries – Jackson was out with a concussion and EJ Speed with a knee injury. Jackson is the leading tackler in the LSC and the captain of the defense, while Speed has one of Tarleton’s four defensive touchdowns. Noah Perez and Savion Washington were both injured Saturday, but no information was made immediately following the game.
Tarleton has won its first three conference contests for the ninth time in 23 years as a member of the LSC. Of the previous eight Tarleton teams on that list, only the 2009 Texans won a share off the conference title and advanced to the Division II playoffs. The began 3-0 giants LSC foes in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013 and now 2017.
The Texans are in the midst of a four-game win steak for the 20th time as a senior college. It’s the fifth time in eight years that Whitten has won four straight at Tarleton after doing so each year from 2001-04. He left Tarleton following the 2004 season and following the 2015 season.
Kickoff for Tarleton at WNMU is set for 2 p.m. next Saturday, October 7. The next home game for the Texans is a week later against Eastern New Mexico on October 14… UTPB visits ENMU next Saturday.