By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 6, 2016) — Tarleton State was finally eliminated from the Lone Star Conference title chase Saturday evening when Midwestern State came from behind to knock off the Texans, 21-16, at Memorial Stadium.
MSU scored three second half touchdowns including a 13-yard run by Adrian Seales with 52 seconds remaining to take the lead before Tristan Shearman intercepted an errant pass under pressure to deny Tarleton’s last ditch effort.
The Mustangs (8-1, 7-1) remain tied atop the LSC standings with Texas A&M-Commerce, while Tarleton (5-5, 5-3) falls two games back and is tied for third alongside Texas A&M-Kingsville and Eastern New Mexico. West Texas A&M is another game back in sixth.
Tarleton visits A&M-Commerce at 4 p.m. next Saturday, while MSU returns home to close out the regular season against Eastern New Mexico.
Tarleton led 16-15 after Zed Woerner converted a fourth down with a 15-yard touchdown lob to Del’Michel High with 2:06 remaining. It was the 24th touchdown throw of the season for Woerner and the 10th scoring catch by High.
But two minutes – exactly the time remaining following the ensuing kick return – was more than enough time for MSU, with Quade Coward shaking off an otherwise pedestrian night to direct the 74-yard game-winning drive. He hit Jaylen Mayo for 15 yards and Statron Jones for 29 yards to move the Mustangs to the Tarleton 30.
Tarleton linebacker Basil Jackson was flagged and ejected for targeting on the next play when he hit Mayo just as a pass arrived over the middle. By rule, Jackson will have to sit out the first half of the game at A&M-Commerce.
The penalty moved the mustangs to the 15, and three plays later Seals found a big hole between right guard and tackle and coasted into the end zone untouched for the game-winning score.
Tarleton’s final minute comeback attempt never really got started as Woerner was pressured heavily on the first snap and lobbed a wobbly throw toward Kason Fornes along the Texan sideline. Shearman leaped with Fornes and pulled down the pass, allowing the Mustangs to take a knee twice and celebrate the win.
Midwestern, ranked second in the region, picked up second half scoring runs of four and two yards by Vincent Johnson – he has 18 TDs on the year – to take the 15-10 lead before Woerner, who did not start for the Texans, finally got Tarleton going again.
Back-to-back fourth quarter possessions ended on sacks that forced Tarleton punts. MSU missed a 35-yard field goal to the left in between those possessions and after the second fourth-quarter punt by Tarleton Seals had the ball stripped by Dariat McDuff and it was recovered by Cody Burtscher to give the Texans life.
Joseph Sadler rushed the ball for 16 yards on three carries to begin the ensuing drive and move Tarleton to the MSU 30. Two plays later he picked up seven yards to bring up fourth-and-three before Woerner found High in one-on-one coverage and hit his favorite receiver in the right corner of the end zone along the MSU sideline.
High had been battling all night. He appeared to be the victim of pass interference that wasn’t called when he beat an MSU defensive back for what would have been a touchdown in the first half. Instead Tarleton missed a 46-yard field goal. Later in the first half, he was open over the middle for a touchdown and Kiser over threw him by inches. High reached out and got his finger tips on the ball but couldn’t reel it in, and Tarleton missed a 45-yard field goal.
Dominique Martin had two interceptions, one deep in Tarleton territory and one on a hail mary to end the first half, helping the Texan defense quell the MSU attack for much of the first half. The Mustangs also turned the ball over on downs on Tarleton’s end of the field.
MSU took an early lead on a 29-yard field goal by Tanner Graeber to cap the opening drive of the game, but Tarleton answered quickly with Sadler making a one-handed catch and racing away for a 46-yard touchdown from Kiser down the Tarleton sideline.
The Texans made it 10-3 with a 20-yard field goal by Sergio Sroka with 6:47 left before the half.
Kiser left with a knee injury just before halftime and was on crutches on the sideline in the second half. He was 8-21 passing for 141 yards and a score and was sacked once before Woerner took over, going 5-12 for 51 yards, a score and an interception while being sacked four times.
Coward was 16-29 for 184 yards but was also picked off twice for the Mustangs. His longest pass of 38 yards went to Statron Jones to set up the last of Johnson’s second half scores.
Seals rushed 21 times for 138 yards for MSU while Johnson ran 18 times for 61 yards. Jabari Anderson had a 70-yard run that set up Tarleton’s short second-quarter field goal and finished with eight carries for 83 yards. Sadler ran 11 times for 54 yards and also caught four passes for 82 yards.
MSU limited talented Tarleton receivers High and Bubba Tandy. High hauled in three passes for 28 yards and Tandy just one for 25. Freshman tight end Brant Bailey snagged three balls for 42 yards.
EJ Speed and Treston Ridge joined Jackson with 11 tackles each for Tarleton while Burtscher and true freshman middle linebacker Ronnell Wilson each made 10 stops. Chase Varnado had nine tackles, to tackles for loss and two sacks, giving him eight for the season.
Zac McMahen had eight tackles to lead MSU. Jayden Cunigan and Drew Bolin each added seven, while Darian Childers had two sacks and two tackles for loss.