By BRAD KEITH
(June 21, 2015) — For the third time in school history and the first in 10 years, Tarleton State is the men’s champion of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
And for the third time since 2005, the Texans had the All-Around Cowboy at the College National Finals Rodeo, with tie-down roping national champ Landon Williams taking the honor with 445 points.
“It is certainly an awesome feeling when your team wins the national championship. I feel blessed to be part of the Tarleton Texans and for helping them get to the top of the nation,” said Williams, a senior competing in his final college rodeo, by text message following the awards ceremony Saturday night.
It’s the first championship for the Texans under seventh-year head coach Mark Eakin. They amassed 915 points, 80 more than the 835 scored by second-place Panhandle State (Okla.). Panhandle had a chance in the final event, but Joe and Josh Frost were each bucked in the bull riding and Tarleton held on.
“Everybody was coming up and congratulating me and it hadn’t even gotten to the bull riding yet. I don’t think they realized how close it was, but when our team roper missed I knew (Panhandle) had a chance,” said Eakin, who has now led Tarleton to six top three finishes on the men’s side, in a phone interview. “My wife was beside me keeping score and she told me if their guys rode their bulls we could still finish second.”
But the bulls dominated the short go in similar fashion to the way they did the rest of the CNFR in its 15th year in Casper, Wyoming, shutting out the Frosts and all other challengers to end any chance of a Panhandle comeback.
“It was nerve-wrecking waiting for the final event to know if we had won it,” said Eakin. “It’s a relief. This is our seventh year here and we’ve had great teams. This year they ran off at the region and just kept it going. It’s a weight lifted off our shoulders and a credit to the kids. I couldn’t ask more of them and I’m glad to see this group do it.”
Wiliams certainly did more than his part. He roped and tied his calf in 9.9 seconds Saturday, good for third in the short go and easily in enough time to win the average. His 39.0 seconds on four head was 1.6 seconds faster than second-place Bobby Abernathy of McNeese State (La.).
“Winning the national championship in the calf roping is such an awesome experience,” texted Williams. “And to tie it all together with an all-around win just puts the cherry on the pie.”
Besides his 280 points in the calf roping, Williams scored another 165 heeling in the team roping competition. A no time Saturday didn’t stop Williams and partner Casey Tew, a header from Weatherford College, from finishing sixth in the average.
“Landon has always heeled very well, and this year he really worked hard at his calf roping and it paid off,” said Eakin “We have a great team and any one of them are capable of being the leader. Landon was the one who stepped up and had an exceptional week at the finals, but it took all of us to get here and to win it.”
Freshman Jace Lane also had success in multiple events, scoring 240 points while finishing second in the average in saddle bronc riding and third in steer wrestling. Lane split second and third in the saddle bronc short go, scoring 71.5 points to finish with 271 on four head. He was seventh in 9.7 seconds in the steer wrestling short go.
“Jace had a really outstanding week. He’s just a freshman and he weighs a whopping 130 points, but he rides broncs very well,” said Eakin.
Kody Lamb finished third in the average and fifth in the short go in bareback riding. He scored 76.5 points Saturday, totaling 296 on four head.
Devan Reilly, a senior, had a no score Saturday and dropped to a split of 11th and 12th in the bareback average.
Jace Melvin reached the finals in two events, placing 14th in steer wrestling – the top 12 reached the short go – and also competing in the calf roping.
“Jace is graduating this summer, but he’s coming back for grad school so he’s been granted one more year of eligibility,” said Eakin.
The TexAnns finished fifth with 280 points. Blue mountain Community College (Ore.) won the women’s total with 517.5.
Shelby Hermann finished fourth in the barrel racing average and scored 165 points to lead the TexAnns. Baili Collins finished 11th in goat tying after settling for an 11.6 in the short go.
Ranger College bull rider Gray Essery was crowned national champion with 151 points on two successful rides. It was enough to win the average by half a point over Trasen Jones of College of Southern Idaho.
Tarleton’s other men’s titles came in 1967 and 2005. Williams won the 11th individual championship in the lush history of Tarleton men’s rodeo, the third in the tie-down roping. Ryan Watkins won the tie down in 2004 and 2005, and also claimed the all-around crown in 2005.
It’s the third straight year the Texans have had an individual national champion. Billy Bob Brown won the team roping in 2013 and 2014.
But the team title is the best of all, says Eakin, who expressed appreciation to Tarleton president Dr. F. Dominic Dottavio for making the trip along with a vice president. Retired Tarleton rodeo coach Bob Doty was also on hand with his wife, Darla, a retired Tarleton administrator.
“It was just outstanding to see the looks on the kids’ faces and to know they reached their goal,” said Eakin, who was surprised when members of his team dowsed him with water during the awards presentation. “Two of them won’t be back, but what a great way to end their college careers.
“We’ve had four thirds and a second since I’ve been here, and to finally finish it is a feeling you can’t describe. Getting to share it with Bob and Darla and Dr. D. made it extra special.”