By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 31, 2016) — Tarleton State will take on the underdog role in each of its final two games against No. 12 Midwestern State and No. 8 Texas A&M-Commerce, but the standings clearly show the Texans remaining in the hunt for at least a share of the Lone Star Conference championship after a 45-26 win at Oklahoma Panhandle State Saturday.
The Midwestern State game falls on Military Appreciation Night at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff in Stephenville is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s Tarleton victory at OPSU:
Tarleton State has several freshmen in big roles, none more so than return specialist and wide receiver Taylor Massey, a Cisco product. A three-event state champion and four-event state-meet qualifier in track and field, Massey found himself on the field returning the opening kickoff of the season for Tarleton State and has improved steadily ever since. An injury to star wideout Jeff Thomas opened the door for Massey to get involved offensively the last two games. He had five catches for 84 yards and also blocked a punt on special teams at OPSU after five receptions for 68 yards against TAMUK.
Massey isn’t the only freshman doing damage, as starting cornerback Devin Hafford has 43 tackles including six at OPSU Saturday. The Houston Atascocita product also has five tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Also starting on defense – when he hasn’t been out due to two concussions – is freshman middle linebacker Ronnell Wilson. He’s missed three games and played in six, making 33 tackles including seven for loss along with a pair of breakups. Safety Cord Norris from Coleman is impacting the defense and special teams as a true freshman, also, making 20 tackles and breaking up two passes.
Back on the offensive side of the ball, Brant Bailey has been the No. 1 tight end for the Texans since a preseason knee injury suffered by senior Dalton Vondra. Bailey has 10 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown in addition to aiding a beat up and largely inexperienced offensive line that features redshirt freshman Dylan Whiteacre from Arlington and true freshman Sam Weldon from Sachse, who made his first start Saturday. Redshirt freshman Noah Perez from Stephenville started until suffering a knee injury and true freshman Skylar Wetzel from San Antonio Reagan has seen limited action at running back.
KISER IN RELIEF OF WOERNER:
Don’t read too much in to Derek Kiser taking over for Zed Woerner at quarterback Saturday. Even Peyton Manning was benched in tough outings with several interceptions. Todd Whitten said after the game that Woerner has just been beaten up in recent weeks – five sacks at Eastern New Mexico then nine against A&M-Kingsville – and after his third interception they decided to make a change. Not a permanent change, just one for the remainder of the game Saturday.
The good news is, Tarleton appears to have at least two solid quarterbacks. Woerner is within six touchdowns of matching the Tarleton single season record of 29, and within two of matching the school’s career mark of 51. But Kiser came in and was 10-17 for 157 yards and a touchdown. In addition to his 22-yard scoring lob to running back Joseph Sadler, he launched a 43-yard pass to Del’Michael High to convert a third-and long and set up a touchdown, and also rolled out and threw on the run to connect with Kason Fornes for 22 yards, setting up another score to help Tarleton pull away.
JACKSON BURSTING ONTO SCENE:
The secret is out on Basil Jackson, a junior linebacker out of Arlington Seguin. He became the first Tarleton player with multiple interception returns for touchdowns in a career since Desmond Jackson in 2012 and 2013 Saturday, when his 55-yard pick six completed the scoring with five minutes and change remaining. Jackson also made 12 tackles and is second on the team with 65 for the season. he will likely take over for Cody Burtscher as the leader of this defense next season.