By BRAD KEITH
SILVER CITY, NM (October 7, 2017) — Offensive line troubles that in past weeks were covered up by explosive plays made the defense and special teams were finally too much for Tarleton State to overcome in a 38-25 loss to previously winless Western New Mexico at Altamira Field Saturday.
With only one drive of more than 30 yards, WNMU still managed to be in control from the onset thanks to a 83-yard kickoff to begin the game and set up a quick 17-yard touchdown drive, a 75-yard interception return followed by an offside penalty to leave only four yards to traverse for a two-score first-half advantage and, ultimately, a 67-yard pick six that guaranteed the Mustangs would break their x game losing streak dating back to …
Tarleton managed just 27 rushing yards, allowing WNMU to pin its ears back and get after embattled Texan quarterback Zed Woerner, who persevered six sacks to go 20-35 for 232 yards and a touchdowns. Unfortunately, his two interceptions were costly, leading to 14 points for the Mustangs.
Despite trailing 24-6, Tarleton seemed determined to come from behind, starting with one of its trademark explosive plays. Sophomore running back Daniel McCants returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown – his second kick return score this season – to cut into the deficit, then the defense provided a quick three-and-out.
Suddenly confident and able to pick up the Mustangs’ attempt to bring pressure, Tarleton was able to establish its once familiar connection between Woerner and High, who hauled in nine receptions for 121 yards. Woerner went to the senior wide out three times on the drive, including a 19-yard TD strike to pull within 24-19.
The ensuing two-point conversion pass failed, but there was still 6:31 remaining. Unfortunately, the one long drive WNMU could muster was still to come.
The Mustangs traveled 88 yards in eight plays, even turning to a trick play in the form of a direct snap reverse pass ending in a six-yard TD pass from receiver Sean North to QB Javia Hall, making it 31-19 with just 1:50 remaining.
Those were the final points the Mustangs would need, but more were quickly added when Isaiah Edwards housed a pick six to touch off a rowdy celebration on the WNMU side, one almost a year in the making.
Woerner snuck over the goal line with a one-yard score with four seconds remaining, taking advantage of a short field after two unsportsmanlike conduct – celebrating – penalties against the Mustangs forced the me to kick off from their own 20 and Jacob Kaspar covered a squib kick at the WNMU 32.
The 27 rushing yards came on 26 attempts behind a Tarleton offensive line already down its starting center before losing Cody Hayes to an injury – it appeared to be to a knee – significant enough the game was halted several minutes for a cart to take him off.
WNMU, conversely, averaged 4.4 yards per carry on its way to 135 on the ground. Hall was not accurate most of the day, finishing 19-41 for 189 yards and an interception, but he did toss three touchdowns in addition to his receiving score.
Penalties also continued to haunt Tarleton with 12 of them costing the Texans 9 yards. WNMU was no better, drawing 11 flags for 106 yards.
Tarleton played similarly a week prior, but a 99-yard fumble return and big offensive TDs covering 76 and 56 yards saw the Texans through their 32-17 win at UT-Permian Basin.
The McCants kick return was the only such play Saturday, though Elliott Hart, who had that long scoop and score at UTPB, did intercept a pass and return the ball to the WNMU 40 to set up a 49-yard Sergio Sroka field goal.
That was all Tarleton would put on the board before trailing 14-3 at intermission, when the Texans had a total of 124 yards, including only 21 on the ground.
But unlike at UTPB, where Tarleton turned it around with more than 200 yards and four offensive touchdowns in the second half, no answer could be found above the mile high mark of elevation in southwestern New Mexico.
Tarleton returns home to face Eastern New Mexico at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game early game start is significant to note as the game was originally slated for 7 p.m.
No doubt, WNMU will enjoy its first victory of the season well into the night and on into Sunday, but the Mustangs must turn the page quickly and prepare for a long trip to east Texas Saturday to challenge No. 2 ranked Texas A&M-Commerce beginning at 4 p.m.