By BRAD KEITH
LAKE CHARLES, La. (September 3, 2016) — Tarleton State knew it would be an uphill battle against Division I-FCS No. 9 McNeese State Saturday.
But the Texans didn’t expect to run backwards.
Tarleton rushed for negative five yards in a 33-3 loss to McNeese, the reigning champion of the Southland Conference, at Cowboy Stadium, despite leading 3-0 following the opening quarter.
Tarleton started with three consecutive stops and McNeese missed a 35-yard field goal then Garrett Simpson hit Bubba Tandy with a 51-yard pass to set up the only Texan points of the night, scored on a 20 yard field goal by Sergio Sroka.
It was all McNeese from there, as the Cowboys ripped off 20 points in the second quarter and added another 13 after halftime. The Cowboys passed for 358 yards, fourth most in program history, and finished with 568 yards to Tarleton’s 134.
Tarleton failed on every third down it faced offensively, going 0-12, and picked up just six first downs. The Cowboys had 32 first downs, moving the sticks as many times on one drive as Tarleton did all night. McNeese held the ball for 43 minutes, 24 seconds, allowing Tarleton possession for only 16:36. The Cowboys ran 94 plays and Tarleton just 42.
James Tabary was 19-29 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns for McNeese, while Tarleton quarterbacks Garrett Simpson and Zed Woerner combined to go just 12-31 for 139 yards, 120 of those by Simpson.
Kent Shelby had five catches for 71 yards and Dariou Crawley hauled in three receptions for 58 yards and two scores for McNeese. Tandy led Tarleton with five catches for 91 yards.
With new running back Curtis McGregor and leading returning rusher Jabari Anderson each sidelined and Tramaine Batten nowhere to be seen, Joseph Sadler split carried with true freshman Skyler Wetzel, the only Texan to turn in a positive rushing total with all of five yards.
Preseason All-American Ryan Ross rushed 19 times for 77 yards for McNeese, who picked up two short TD runs by Dylan Long.
The loss officially marked the beginning of the third head coach Todd Whitten era at Tarleton. Already the school’s winningest senior college coach and a four-time Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year, Whitten dropped to 0-6 all-time against McNeese State, who he met four times while coaching at FCS and Southland Conference member Sam Houston State.
Tarleton has its home opener next Saturday, welcoming Southwest Baptist to Memorial Stadium for a 7 p.m. start.