By BRAD KEITH
GOODWELL, Okla. (October 29, 2016) — Quarterbacks Zed Woerner and Derek Kiser combined to pass for 403 yards and three touchdowns while Tarleton State (5-4, 5-2) also blocked a punt and scored on defense in a 45-26 Lone Star Conference win over Oklahoma Panhandle State (2-7, 1-6) at No Man’s Land Stadium Saturday.
The win keeps Tarleton in position to contend for at least a share of the LSC championship for the fourth time. The Texans, who trail Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Commerce by half a game (both played Saturday night, after Tarleton), won shares of the league title in 2001, 2009 and 2013 but have never won it outright.
Tarleton hosts Midwestern State at 7 p.m. next Saturday, November 5, and visits Texas A&M-Commerce to conclude the regular season on November 12.
Woerner was 14-26 for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions before turning the reigns of the offense over to Derek Kiser, who was 10-17 for 157 yards and one score while setting up two others with long passes.
The duo combined to hit Del’Michael High nine times for 126 yards, while Bubba Tandy had 100 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. It was the third time in five games that High has topped 100 yards, the second time this season for Tandy to exceed the century mark and the third time this fall that Tarleton saw two of its receivers top 100 yards in the same game.
The Texans led just 24-19 entering the fourth quarter, but Kiser converted a third down with a 43-yard strike to High that set up a two-yard touchdown run by Jabari Anderson. The sophomore from Burnet made another key play on the ensuing drive, throwing on the run and hitting Kason Fornes, who made a leaping catch for 22 yards to the two. This time it was Joseph Sadler who cashed it in on the ground, with his two-yard score making it 38-19 with 10:27 remaining.
The latter of those scores was set up by the Tarleton defense and special teams. A third-down sack by Birdel Hodge forced a punt that was blocked by true freshman Taylor Massey, setting up the offense at the OPSU 25.
Rod Moore rushed for a one-yard touchdown, bringing Panhandle within 38-26, with 7:58 still to play. The Aggie defense then did its job, forcing Tarleton into one of just two three-and-outs the entire game, but it didn’t matter.
Basil Jackson stepped in front of a pass and picked it off with a head of steam heading the other way, returning the interception 55 yards for his second pick six of the season. Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown against Angelo State six weeks ago, becoming the first Tarleton player since Desmond Jackson in 2012 and 2013 to have multiple picks for scores in a career.
Tarleton made other key defensive plays, such as fourth down sacks by Chase Varnado and Devon Myles, and a first-half interception by EJ Speed. Dropping into coverage in the flat, the sophomore defensive end – who led the nation with five forced fumbles entering the game – picked off an unsuspecting Shane Truelove and returned the ball to near midfield.
That set up a crazy end to the first half, as Woerner also tossed an interception that was returned 75 yards for a touchdown by Darryn Cain, cutting the Tarleton lead to 17-13 five seconds before the half.
Cain picked off Woerner again in the second half, but the Tarleton defense stood its ground and Kiser brought the offense back on the field. He hit his five straight pass attempts to begin his relief performance, and later on the opening drive lobbed a 22-yard scoring pass to Sadler for a two-possession lead with 2:42 left in the third.
Devyn Williams kept OPSU in the game with a four-yard touchdown run almost two minutes later, and it was 24-19 before Tarleton pulled away in the fourth.
The Texans led from the onset, with Sergio Sroka drilling a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead and Woerner hitting Tandy in stride over the middle before the senior receiver outran everyone to the pylon for a 74-yard touchdown and 10-0 advantage less than nine minutes into the game.
Sterling Claphan hit field goals of 28 and 38 yards to bring Panhandle within 10-6 early in the second quarter before Woerner found Fornes open on an out route for a three-yard TD and a 17-6 Tarleton lead midway through the period.
Tarleton finished with 466 yards of offense. The 403 passing is the most since the Texans passed for 416 yards and set a school scoring record in an 84-47 victory over Panhandle in Stephenville one year and five days prior. Before he left the game, Woerner crept within two touchdown passes of tying Steve Kelly’s career mark of 51 from 1999-2001. He is also within six scoring throws of the single season mark of 29 set by Kelly in 2001.
Kiser threw his fourth career touchdown pass and his first of the season. He threw for three scores in the record-setting 84-47 rout of Panhandle last season.
Massey added five receptions for 84 yards to his blocked punt, while Fornes hauled in five receptions for 65 yards and his first TD catch of the year.
Truelove was 29-52 for 328 yards through the air for Panhandle, but he turned the ball over twice and was sacked four times without a touchdown pass. He completed six passes each to Rod Moore and Brandon Trotter, who had 80 receiving yards and 67, respectively. Moore also rushed for 47 yards.