By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 9, 2016) — I don’t know how much high quality football was played outside the clinical opening five minutes by Tarleton State Saturday. According to head coach Todd Whitten in his post-game radio interview, not much.
An ugly win, of course, is better than a pretty loss any day, but every time this team wins in the Lone Star Conference, it raises the bar of expectations. Now, they have a chance for a winning streak and to move into second place in the league. But they will have to be better next Saturday in order to win at Eastern New Mexico. Much better.
And even better after that, with three of the final four games against the likes of Texas A&M-Kingsville, Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Commerce.
Here are several takeaways from the 44-41 win over Western New Mexico Saturday night, which leaves Tarleton tied alongside A&M-Commerce for third in the LSC.
STRONG RETURN GAME:
The strongest, most consistent part of Tarleton’s performance Saturday was its return teams. Bubba Tandy struck early with a 100-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff, and Kason Fornes made a big play late with a 34-yard punt return that set up a 35-yard field goal. Take those plays away and we could very well have a different narrative entirely.
GOTTA CLEAN IT UP:
Tarleton has a lot to clean up, like 13 penalties for 123 yards, three turnovers, a blocked punt for the second straight week and a missed PAT. The penalties were the hardest to watch, especially a defensive holding that turns a Devin Hafford interception into (two plays later) a WNMU touchdown, and offensive holdings that first wipe out a fourth-down touchdown pass from Zed Woerner to Jeff Thomas, and later backed up the Texans as they were trying to run out the clock. Special teams have been an adventure all year, as Tarleton has had six kicks blocked (or dropkicked, as a punt was last week) in four LSC games.
ON JAVIA HALL:
That’s a special gun slinger out there in Silver City, NM, as evidenced by his 447 yards and four touchdowns on 32-45 passing. Hall, for the season, is a 62 percent passer for 1,565 yards and 16 touchdowns, though he has thrown five interceptions. But make no mistake, WNMU is only in this game because of Hall’s strong arm and precision passing. The way he answered every challenge and kept bringing the Mustangs closer, I’m glad for Tarleton that the game lasted just 60 minutes.
BUT WOERNER WAS HIS EQUAL:
Woerner was 27-36 for 284 yards and four scores, and that was with Tarleton rushing the ball much of the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. The junior from Marble Falls was a holding penalty and mere inches from throwing six touchdowns. He had the TD strike to Thomas that was negated by a flag, and Del’Michael High just missed getting a foot down in bounds while catching a a well-thrown strike along the back line of the end zone. Over the last three games, Woerner is 70-106 (66 percent) for 941 yards and 11 TDs.
OFFENSIVE LINE INCONSISTENCY:
The offensive line gave a Jekyl & Hyde type performance Saturday. In the first half, the Texans struggled to run block but protected Woerner beautifully. In the second half, however, Tarleton ran the ball effectively with the exception of taking on a loaded box on the final drive, but Woerner got banged around. The line also had the two ill-timed holding penalties or Tarleton likely tops 500 total yards for the first time this season.
A LOOK AHEAD AT EASTERN NEW MEXICO:
Tarleton and ENMU have five common opponents with the Texans 3-2 and the Greyhounds 4-1 in those games and the difference being a 39-30 ENMU upset of West Texas A&M in their annual Wagon Wheel rivalry. The Hounds boast a triple option attack that has produced 347 yards and 30 points per game. Running back Kamal Cass has rushed for 640 yards, while quarterback Wyatt Strand has passed for 440 and rushed for 324.
TheFlashToday.com photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Photos courtesy Dr. CHET MARTIN