EL PASO – If first-year FCS Tarleton was supposed to be the underdog against FBS New Mexico State, that message never reached the Texan locker room.
Not even after one defensive starter was ruled out for the first half after a penalty last week. Not even when five offensive starters were ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols. The Texans’ faith in themselves never wavered – not once.
Head coach Todd Whitten’s message was very clear, “Next Man Up!”
The Texans made program history in El Paso Sunday afternoon when Tarleton earned its first-ever win as an NCAA Division I program in thrilling fashion by thrashing FBS level New Mexico State 43-17 at The Sun Bowl in El Paso.
“(This win) is huge (for our program),” said Whitten. “Everybody in the country is facing a lot of adversity and we’re no different. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team and the way they fought this afternoon. Our guys stepped up and bought into ‘next man up’, especially our quarterback Cam (Burston).
“I couldn’t be more proud of Cam,” he added. “From going from the backup role to getting out there and playing really well. We gave him the game ball. I’m as proud of Cam as any quarterback I’ve ever coached.”
Burston was named the starter just hours before kickoff when COVID-19 protocols kept five offensive starters from playing today. Burston, as well as Braelon Bridges (RB), Gabe Douglas (WR), Jeremy Phelps (RG) and Blake Haynes (RT), all stepped into elevated roles for the Texans Sunday.
The quarterback from Vallejo, California provided an instant spark as he and another ‘next man’ combined for two quick touchdowns on Tarleton’s first two offensive plays from scrimmage. Burston took the opening play 70 yards to the house on a QB keeper and, when Tarleton got the ball back for drive number two, he hit Douglas down the sideline for an 86-yard score. Tarleton led 14-0 after two offensive plays.
After New Mexico State took the kickoff back to get on the board, Tarleton continued to pour it on over the first half.
The Texans recorded a safety on a bad pitch from the Aggies and then a repeat performance of scores with a 21-yard scoring run from Burston and a 29-yard pitch and catch from the QB to Gabe Douglas. Adrian Guzman chipped in a 35 yard field goal to lead 33-7 at the half.
Tarleton opened up the second half with defensive fireworks on the first two Aggie possessions when Benjie Franklin and Donovan Banks picked off the Aggie signal caller on back-to-back drives. Deangelo Rosemond scored from four yards out after the Franklin pick for Tarleton’s only touchdown of the second half. Guzman added another 34 yard field goal to close out the scoring.
In his first career start, Burston was 15-29 throwing for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 79 yards and two scores. Douglas was his top target for the day, hauling in seven catches for 190 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Tarleton dominated the Aggies.
Tarleton held New Mexico State to a mere 54 yards on the ground and just 241 total yards on the day. Franklin and Banks (2) combined for three interceptions while Devin Hafford led the team with seven tackles from the secondary.
Tarleton will return home next weekend for a bout with fellow FCS Independent and WAC transitional member Dixie State. The Texans and Trailblazers will kickoff at 2 p.m. CT in Stephenville. All tickets must be purchased in advance at TarletonSports.com/tickets. No walk-up sales are permitted at Tarleton events this spring.