By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 14, 2017) — Tarleton Sate (4-3, 3-2) rushed for only 22 yards and turned the ball over three times in a 24-15 loss to Eastern New Mexico (6-1, 5-1) at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
All but dashed are Tarleton’s preseason designs on winning a fourth Lone Star Conference championship and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Eastern New Mexico, conversely, kept its goals very much alive, building a 17-0 lead, rushing for 323 yards, sacking Tarleton quarterback Zed Woerner five times and picking him off twice in a significant road win to stay right on the heels of unbeaten and No. 3 ranked Midwestern State at the top of the LSC standings.
“They made more big plays than we did, and we didn’t take care of the ball. When you turn the ball over like we did, you’re not going to win many games,” said Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten. “We didn’t take advantage of chances when we created them, and I don’t even know how many points we left out there in the kicking game, but it was too many.”
The largest Greyhound lead, 24-6, came following a 2-yard Kamal Cass touchdown run in the third quarter. Cass provided his typical workman-like production, gaining 109 yards on 24 carries, primarily as the dive guy in the triple-option ENMU runs so effectively.
But it was a play much less typical of Cass that gave the Hounds a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Facing second-and-18, they called for their only trick play of the afternoon. It started as backward swing pass to Russell Montoya, and for just an instant the Tarleton defense – and everyone in the stadium not privy to the play call – thought that’s all that was amiss.
Montoya and Cass had other plans, however, as the wide receiver lofted a pass to an all-alone Cass on the opposite side of the field. Cass eluded one would be tackler before crossing the goal line for the three score lead.
The trick-play touchdown came six plays after Tarleton lost the ball on a controversial ruling. Baxter Kirvin hauled in a 21-yard reception from Woerner, moving the ball to the Greyhound 27. But Kirvin, lost the ball at the end of the play and it was ruled a fumble. ENMU returned the ball to its own 36 while officials appeared to be moving in slow motin and looking to one another for help.
Whitten was not in slow motion, marching almost to the hash mark to let it be known he felt Kirvin made a catch and was tackled to the turf before losing the ball. His argument fell on deaf ears, and the lost fumble led to ENMU score.
Even facing the south wind, Tarleton was in field goal range as soon as Kirvin cradled the reception from Woerner, meaning the seven-play sequence likely swung 10 points, perhaps 14, in the favor of ENMU.
It wasn’t like Hounds needed much help, especially not in the early going. Bailey Hale hit a 20-yard field goal to begin the scoring after punts to end the opening possession for each team.
Woerner was 32-53 for 397 yards, but he overshot a wide open Cornellius Carrington and under thew a makeable pass to Jeff Thomas, both in the end zone and Tarleton also missed a field goal before ENMU tacked on the game’s first touchdown on a 24-yard run by Tayshaun Gary.
The Texans did resound after the trick-play touchdown left them trailing 17-0. They went 76 yards in seven plays, the last a one-yard plunge into the end zone by Daniel McCants, trimming it to 17-6 at half-time following a missed PAT by Sergio Sroka.
Tarleton did nothing with the opening possession of the second half, and just more than five minutes into the third, it was Cass time again for the largest lead and final Greyhound points of the game.
Tarleton took the ensuing possession to the ENMU 10, but couldn’t finish, and sent Eastland freshman JR Fullen out on fourth down for the first field goal try of his college career.The true freshman booted a line drive knuckled that somehow found its way over and between to the Texans within two possessions just before the five-minute mark of the third.
Some 14 minutes went by, during which ENMU missed a field goal and Tarleton had a touchdown by Thomas called back for offensive pass interference.
The Texans pulled within nine when Woerner became the first Tarleton QB to reach 60 career TD passes . On the flag route angling toward the ENMU sideline just inside the pylon was Jacob Kaspar, and Woerner dropped in the 17-yard TD perfectly.
Tarleton went for two in an effort to pull within seven, but a Woerner pass to Xavier Turner in the right flat was broken up, and the Texans were still two possessions behind with 6:30 left.
Tarleton drove into the red zone again after a defensive stop, but Woerner was pressured and threw behind an open Whitaker, right into the chest of cornerback Deion Hart, and he raced 69 yards the other way before being taken down. It was the third time in two games a Woerner interception was returned more than 65 yards.
ENMU attempted only six passes and completed four, but the trickery from Montoya to Cass was the longest play from scrimmage for either team, giving the Hounds 115 yards through the air and 438 total yards while Tarleton had 419.
Tarleton will be hoping to stay above .500 when the Texans travel to Texas A&M-Kingsville Saturday. Kickoff at Javelina Stadium is set for 7 p.m. The following Saturday, October 28, is homecoming against Western Oregon, beginning at 2 p.m.
The Hounds don’t play again until that day, as they are idle next week, then entertain A&M-Kingsville on October 28.