CANYON – The Challenge Trophy, which signifies the rivalry between Tarleton and West Texas A&M, will come back to Stephenville for another year as the Texans put an emphatic mark on the Lone Star Conference opener with a 44-7 win over WT in Canyon Saturday.
As a team, Tarleton dominated every aspect of the game.
The Texans put up 419 yards of total offense, including 225 on the ground and five rushing touchdowns. On the defensive side, Tarleton held WT to just 123 total yards, including 31 rushing yards. The 31 yards on the ground is the fewest rushing yards allowed by a Tarleton team in a game since the Texans held Texas A&M-Commerce to 20 yards on Oct. 13, 2012.
It’s the first time Tarleton has put up back-to-back performances of over 40 points since Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, 2016 against UT Permian Basin and Western New Mexico.
“(We were) still way to sloppy but I’m really proud of our guys,” said head coach Todd Whitten. “They played hard and made plays. We had too many penalties and we are really rough around the edges in the kicking game, but we have a lot to be thankful for. I’m really pleased on a lot of fronts, but we’ve just got to play cleaner.”
After the teams traded punts over the first seven possessions of the ballgame, Tarleton’s freshman kicker Joanly Martinez got Tarleton on the board with a 34-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 1:36 left in the opening quarter.
That slim lead would carry into the second quarter, but it wouldn’t survive it as the Texans exploded for a 20-spot over the next 15 minutes.
D’Anthony Hopkins scored the first touchdown of the game by rumbling in from three yards out then, after an interception from Devin Hafford, Ben Holmes found paydirt two plays later on a six-yard quarterback keeper to put Tarleton up 16-0.
WT found its only offensive sparked of the game with a touchdown and just 10 seconds left on the board, but that 10 seconds was all Daniel McCants needed to turn the momentum back toward the purple and white. McCants returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown as time expired to send Tarleton into halftime leading 23-7. For McCants, it is his third kickoff return for a touchdown in the last 14 games dating back to last year.
After halftime, it was the Xavier Turner show.
The senior running back handled all of the Tarleton scoring the rest of the way with three touchdown runs of seven, 21, and five yards to extend the lead out the final score of 44-7.
Ben Holmes led the passing game with 194 yards on 13-17 through the air. He also ran 10 times for 53 yards and a score. His top target for the evening was DeShun Qualls, who boasted three catches for 82 yards.
On the ground, Tarleton had four different players rush for over 40 yards and three of them found the end zone. The only one who didn’t score a rushing touchdown – McCants – found the end zone anyway via special teams. Hopkins led the team with 61 yards and a touchdown while Holmes (53) and McCants (51) combined for 104 yards on the ground. Xavier Turner ran eight times for 43 yards and three touchdowns, giving him six touchdowns against West Texas A&M in his two-year Tarleton career.
Defensively, the Texans made plays all over the field.
Chris Radford enjoyed a career day on the defensive line as the junior made six tackles – all solo – with five tackles for a loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He is the first Texan to make five stops in the backfield since Rufus Johnson against Texas A&M-Commerce on Oct. 15, 2011.
Radford provided two of Tarleton’s five sacks for the game while Jaicorious Johnson, E.J. Speed, Jordan Phillips, and Sean Walton combined for the other three. Tarleton had eight different players make tackles in the backfield, led by Radford. Ed Hayes led the team with seven tackles and 2.5 for a loss.
Devin Hafford and Prince Robinson took care of business through the air with three combined interceptions, two of which came from Robinson to give him three on the season.
As Tarleton prepares to recognize the 2001 Tarleton Football team during its inaugural ‘Legends Game’ next weekend in Stephenville, the win over West Texas A&M is the largest for Tarleton against the Buffs since the ’01 team handed WT a 62-3 loss at Kimbrough Memorial on Oct. 6, 2001.
Tarleton will welcome UT Permian Basin to town next weekend for Family Weekend and the ‘Legends Game’ at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Stephenville.
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