By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 12, 2015) — When Tarleton State capped off a 24-0 run with a 31-14 lead early in the third quarter, it looked as if the Texans would celebrate a fourth straight season opening win at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
But then everything changed, as Findlay (2-0) ended the game on a 21-3 run of its own to defeat the Texans 35-34, handing Tarleton (0-1) its first season opening loss since 2011.
After Findlay cut it to 31-21, Tarleton was stuffed on four straight plays from the Findlay one and never regained the momentum. Instead the Oilers went on a 99-yard touchdown drive.
Three times Findlay scored on drives kept alive by defensive penalties when Tarleton appeared to have made third down stops. Findlay’s opening drive appeared headed for three-and-out until a third-down roughing the passer penalty, one of three the Texans were assessed with during the loss. The first drive was also helped by a facemask, and two other scoring drives benefitted from third down pass interference penalties.
Even after Findlay took over possession with a 35-34 lead, Tarleton had time and looked as if it would get the ball back after an incompletion on third down. But instead, another pass interference was thrown, and Findlay picked up two more first downs to run out the clock.
Tarleton finished with 10 penalties for 114 yards, though Findlay returned some of those favors by drawing eight flags for 101 yards.
The Oilers amassed 598 yards of offense, including almost 400 after halftime, when they outscored the Texans 21-10.
Findlay quarterback Rhys Gervais was 19-31 passing for 343 yards and tossed three touchdowns for the second straight week. His favorite target, Jason Moore, had five grabs for 116 yards and two scores, his second straight 100-yard outburst to begin the season.
Zach Henshaw scored on a five-yard run to cap an impressive eight play, 65-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half with Tarleton up 31-14.
But Findlay answered with a five-play 90-yard drive, ending with a 15-yard strike from Gervais to Moore in the back corner of the end zone.
Tarleton then drove to the Findlay one, but was stuffed on four straight rushing attempts, the last two quarterback keepers by Woerner out of the shotgun, and turned the ball over on downs.
Findaly answered with a 99-yard drive that took 10 plays and ended with Gervais finding Tim Szabo with a six-yard scoring strike to cut it to 31-28.
Blake Barnes, who is two extra point kicks from becoming the all-time Tarleton leader in PATs, hit a 33-yard field goal to extend the Tarleton lead to 34-28 with 8:25 remaining.
But Findlay still had the momentum, and it showed. The Oilers marched 83 yards in just six plays, and the second TD run by Jones, a two-yard plunge across the goal line, gave Findlay its first lead since early in the second quarter. It was the last lead the Oilers would need.
Tarleton appeared to be on the move as the Texans tried to come back in the final six minutes of the game, but after Alex Sanchez hauled in a first-down pass at the Findlay 45, he had the ball stripped by Troy Robinson, who also recovered it for Findlay.
Pass interference kept Findlay in business three plays later, and another third-and-long was converted on an 11-yard strike from Gervais to Dylan Blunk. Runs of eight and four yards by Daiquone Ford moved the Oilers to the Tarleton one, where Ford fell down to allow his team to run out the clock by kneeling on the final play.
Ford rushed 20 times for 196 yards for the Oilers, and Chauncey Bridges ran 13 times for 83 yards.
Tarleton had 484 total yards, 247 on the ground and 237 through the air. Zed Woerner was 21-32 for 237 yards and two scores while also rushing for 63 yards. Le’Nard Meyers moved into a third-place tie in school history with his seventh 100-yard receiving game. He had seven grabs for 139 yards and a TD. Bubba Tandy had five catches for 65 yards. The first four Tandy receptions were all third-down conversions, one of them a touchdown.
Jabari Anderson rushed seven times for 79 yards including a 43-yard sprint to pay dirt for a 24-14 Tarleton lead with 37 seconds left in the first half.
The first Jones TD, also a two-yard run, got Findlay on the board first on its opening drive.
Tarleton elected to go for it on fourth-and-one from its own 44 on its first possession, but Henshaw was buried in the backfield. Findlay drove to the Tarleton 11 with the help of a facemask penalty, but linebacker Cody Burtscher, a converted running back, sacked Gervais on third down and blocked the ensuing field goal attempt to keep the Texans within seven.
The deficit didn’t last long, but then, the game wasn’t tied long either.
Woerner found Meyers wide open on a post rout behind the defense for a 50-yard touchdown to even the early score, but after a long Findlay kick return, Gervais went deep to Moore for a 35-yard TD and a 14-7 Oiler lead in the last minute of the first.
Woerner helped Tarleton even it right back up in the opening minutes of the second. He scrambled for a fourth-down conversion then converted three straight third downs through the air, including a three-yard TD to Tandy on third and goal.
The Texans grabbed their first lead of the night on a 21-yard chip shot field goal by Barnes that made it 17-14 with 2:21 left in the half.
It doesn’t get any easier for Tarleton next week, when they face longtime Lone Star Conference rival West Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. Saturday as part of the Lone Star Football Festival at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington.
WTAMU pulled a stunning upset Saturday, bouncing back from a season opening loss by stunning reigning national champ and No. 2 ranked Colorado State-Pueblo 31-30.