By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Growing up is hard to do, and McNeese State drove that lesson home for Tarleton State as the first-year NCAA D1 Texans fell victim to an improbable comeback with the Cowboys taking a 40-37 double-overtime win in the season-opener for both teams Saturday in Stephenville.
Cowboy quarterback Cody Orgeron engineered the fantastic comeback. He put the Texans away for good with a 19-yard gallop through the Tarleton defense in the second overtime after the two teams exchanged field goals.
Tarleton had matched McNeese’s field goal by Jacob Abel in the first overtime when Texan placekicker Adrian Guzman booted a 37-yard field goal to send it into the second overtime.
The Texans stalled on their next possession and had to settle for a 45-yard field from Guzman to take a 37-34 lead before Orgeron’s final highlight put the game away,
Orgeron provided plenty of spark for the Cowboys as he engineered two scoring drives in the game’s final six minutes.
With 2:46 remaining, the quarterback found Mason Pierce on a 26-yard scoring strike, and the Cowboys Darius Daniels recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Trevor Begue’s one-handed catch with 35 ticks left on the clock, the Cowboys down by one, and Bailey Raborn laced the extra point through the uprights to tie the game.
The Cowboy’s rally overshadowed the Texans’ first-ever Division 1 game, and it was a night of ups and downs for Tarleton after rallying from a 10-0 deficit.
Abel had spotted the Cowboys a 3-0 lead with a 21-yard field goal, and then Trey Vondenstein recovered a Texan fumble to give McNeese the ball at Tarleton’s 15-yard line.
The Cowboys used just three plays to take the 10-0 lead, with Orgeron finding Josh Matthews for a 13-yard score.
Tarleton’s rally began immediately, with quarterback Steven Duncan starting to find his groove. The Texans had to settle for a 38-yard field goal from Guzman when the drive stalled out, but the fireworks were beginning for Tarleton.
A bruising four-yard run by Ryheem Skinner tied the contest at 10-10 just before halftime, and the momentum continued to swing Tarleton’s way in the third quarter as the Texans scored on their first possession of the second half.
Tariq Bitson broke through defense to gather in a 13-yard pass from Duncan, and Texans pushed the lead to two touchdowns when Braelon Bridges broke through several tackles on a 27-yard scoring run.
From there, the two teams would exchange punches via long scoring drives as McNeese put together a 16-play 77-yard drive capped by Orgeron cutting the lead to 24-17 on a five-yard run.
The Texans countered with a 13-play 83-yard drive where Bridges bulled his way backward into the end zone on a one-yard run to put Tarleton back up 31-17.
Delays marred the game due to targeting fouls, including the ejection of Texan linebacker Ronnell Wilson who had been a force for Tarleton’s defense. Another targeting call against Donovan Banks seemed out of line, considering he was a good five yards from the receiver he was accused of targeting.
The foul was reviewed, and Banks remained in the game, but it appeared the call made the Texan defenders a little hesitant, and that was all the room a talented Cowboy squad needed.
The statistics were just as close as the score, with McNeese compiling 400 yards of offense while Tarleton came away with 408.
Duncan finished the night 22-39-0 for 217 yards and a touchdown. Bridges led the Texans’ ground attack with 112 yards on 15 carries, while Skinner added 55 more on 14 totes.
The Texans’ defense was led by ChadWick Thibodeaux, who had 14 stops, Zech Hopkins with 10 and Jordon Wells 9. Bryon Broussard led the Texans with five solo tackles.
Bitson topped receivers with 87 yards on five catches and a score, but Dray Roberson pulled down the most receptions with 11 for 74 yards. J.F. Thomas led the receivers in the first half with five catches for 45 yards, but he was pulled from the game after an apparent injury.
Tarleton will travel to New Mexico State next Saturday before returning home to host Dixie State on Feb. 27.