By BRAD KEITH
(October 10, 2015) — Joseph Sadler could have stayed home in Devine preparing for his grandfather’s funeral.
Bubba Tandy could have accepted a medical redshirt.
Le’Nard Meyers could have mailed in his senior season following four straight losses including the largest margin of defeat in school history just a week ago.
But even after a 10-0 deficit early on, Tarleton State kept fighting.
And found a way.
Texas A&M-Kingsville (1-5, 0-3) quarterback Myles Carr fumbled the snap inside the Tarleton State (1-4, 1-3) two yard line on the final play of the game, and Tarleton held on for a 38-34 win – its first of the season – in a wild Lone Star Conference battle at Javelina Stadium.
Even against the one-win Javelinas, the win seemed improbable, especially when the Texans faced a 34-24 deficit after the third period, the 10th straight quarter in which they allowed allowed at least 10 points.
Trailing 34-31, and backed up to its own 7-yard line with 2:43 remaining, Tarleton promptly drove 93 yards in eight plays, taking the lead on a 13-yard touchdown strike from Alex Craig to Meyers with 1:10 left. The score was set up by ]Tandy, who caught a short pass at the 30 and ran 57 yards after the catch for a 66-yard gain to the A&M-Kingsville 13-yard line.
The game-winning pass to Meyers came three plays later, but A&M-Kingsville wasn’t done fighting, either.
Aided by 25 yards in defensive penalties, A&M-Kingsville marched right down the field. A 22 yard pass plus a face mask penalty moved the ball to the Texan 32.
On third-and-five from the 27, Carr had an open receiver in the end zone, but his pass was batted down by sophomore defensive end Chase Varnado, who had a huge defensive outing for Tarleton.
Carr responded by converting a fourth down with a 13-yard pass to Jordan Thomas that moved the Javs to the Tarleton 14. Defensive holding on an incomplete pass pushed the ball to the seven, and Carr scrambled for six yards to the one, where A&M-Kingsville took a timeout with four seconds left.
Cary Fowler says the line shift before the fumbled snap was carefully planned.
“The center had been flinching anytime we showed movement on the defensive line, so we called for the movement, and when he flinched we hit him in the mouth and they fumbled the snap,” said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler during his post game radio interview on the Tarleton Sports Network.
It was an observation and decision that, for now, may have saved the Tarleton season. The Texans will certainly have some newfound momentum as they prepare for their homecoming game next week. Kickoff against Eastern New Mexico at Memorial Stadium Saturday is set for 6 p.m.
Sadler rushed 18 times for 132 yards and two scores, a remarkable performance given the circumstances.
“His grandfather passed away and he left on Thursday,” Fowler explained. “We brought his pads and everything with us and I talked to him today and asked him if he wanted to play. He was waiting on us at the stadium when we got here.
“He was playing for his grandfather,” the sixth-year head coach added. “For him to come out and play that way was just unbelievable.”
The second Sadler touchdown was a 32-yard burst on 4th-and-1, trimming the Tarleton deficit to 34-31 with 10:41 to play.
Sadler, who amassed 213 all-purpose yards and became the first Texan other than Zach Hendhaw to rush for more than 100 since 2013, also had a 66-yard kickoff return just before halftime, part of the wildest final minute of a half that anyone can immediately remember.
Tarleton tied the game at 17-17 on a 26-yard Blake Barnes field goal with 52 seconds on the clock. But Carr needed just eight seconds to go over the top of the Tarleton secondary, hitting Thomas for a 65-yard touchdown and a 24-17 Javelina lead.
Tarleton wasn’t done, thanks to Sadler’s big return to the A&M-Kingsville 35. Craig bounced back from one of three Javelina sacks by scrambling 20 yards to the 17. He tossed an interception on the final play of the half, but it was waved off for pass interference and the ball was moved to the 4.
Then, the lights went out.
The lights on the east side of the stadium went dark and the game was delayed 54 minutes. The teams had an early halftime, and when full lighting was restored, they ran the final untamed down of the first half and rolled straight into the third quarter.
When play resumed, Tarleton concluded the first half – after the halftime intermission – with an incomplete pass into the end zone, turning down what would have been a 21-yard chip shot for three points.
“I’ve never seen the first half end after halftime,” said a jovial Fowler following the win, his 28th leading the Texans and fourth straight on the road at A&M-Kingsville dating back to a wild 57-56 double overtime victory in a national playoff game when he was defensive coordinator. “I’ve been down here for some crazy games. Luckily they’ve come out on our end.”
Meyers hauled in eight passes for 93 yards and two scores. His first TD tied it up at 24-24 with just more than three minutes into the second half.
Tandy made four catches for 94 yards and a 15-yard TD that pulled Tarleton within three midway through the second. It was the first game back for the USA Football preseason All-American after suffering broken ribs during a Lone Star Football Festival loss to West Texas A&M three weeks prior.
With starter Zed Woerner inactive because of a shoulder injury suffered last week, Alex Craig went the whole way at quarterback for Tarleton, overcoming two interceptions to go 22-34 for 223 yards and three scores.
Besides the batted pass that may have saved the game on the final drive, Varnado batted another ball that was picked off by Tyriq Murray, and the redshirt sophomore defensive end from Stephenville also ended two drives with a sack and tackle for a loss.
Cody Burtscher tipped a pass that was picked off and returned 24 yards by Marcus Johnson. Jamarquis Durst led the team with 12 total tackles, nine of them solo.
Carr was 17-30 passing for 243 yards and two scores to offset the pair of interceptions. His top target was Thomas with six catches for 114 yards. Greg Pitre rushed 16 times for 89 yards to lead the Javelinas on the ground.
“This meant a lot to us,” said Fowler in the post game radio interview with play-by-play talent Casey Hogan. “I think we’ll look back and there could have been different things happen, but it needed to end like that. My kids needed it.
“We believed the whole night. We just kept believing and kept fighting. “We had several injuries, and guys just kept coming in and fighting,” Fowler added. “The kids needed this win more than me. They’re starting to believe again, and for that to end the way it did will give us a lot of momentum going into the stretch part of the season.”