The Tarleton Texans opened the game with all of the excitement and energy needed in a season opener. It showed on the field and it showed on the scoreboard, but Stephen F. Austin responded in the second half to spoil the Texans’ Western Athletic Conference debut. The Lumberjacks won it Saturday night 20-10 at Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches, Texas.
The Texans’ defense was the star of the game, forcing big turnovers to help Tarleton’s offense and forcing the ‘Jacks to earn everything. On the defense’s very first time on the field in 2021, linebacker D.J. Harris forced a fumble by SFA’s Miles Reed, and Devin Hafford recovered, running it back 23 yards to put Tarleton at the SFA 12-yard line.
Tarleton took advantage almost immediately, with Steven Duncan throwing a 12-yard touchdown to J.F. Thomas on second down to put the Texans up 7-0 less than three minutes into the game.
The Tarleton defense shut down SFA the remainder of the quarter. Late in the first, Duncan completed a 36-yard pass to Tariq Bitson to the SFA 29-yard line. At the start of the second, Tarleton finished the drive with an Adrian Guzman 36-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead.
At the 8:49 mark, the Texans gave up their first of three turnovers in the game with a Duncan interception at the SFA 38-yard line. The Lumberjacks took the momentum and put their first points on the board with a 35-yard touchdown catch by Xavier Gipson from Trae Self with 6:44 left in the second.
The Texans then responded, driving all the way to the Lumberjacks’ 1-yard line, but they were unable to punch it in, and then a field goal miss left them with a missed opportunity to extend the lead. Tarleton took a 10-7 lead into the locker room.
Midway through the third, Stephen F. Austin marched down the field, but a 3rd and Goal forced incompletion by Zach Strong made the Lumberjacks settle for a field goal to tie it at 10.
SFA drove it down the field towards the end of the third and scored to start the fourth quarter on a Reed 2-yard rush to go up 17-10. The Texans were unable to get much going in the final frame and were unable to overcome three interceptions thrown.
Duncan finished with 219 yards on 21-of-33 passing, with a touchdown and three picks. QB Mike Irwin spelled him late, going 3-of-9 for 15 yards passing.
Bitson had seven catches for 127 yards, averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Thomas finished with four catches and 30 yards, plus his touchdown. Dray Roberson caught four passes for 48 yards. Daniel Wright Jr. (seven carries for 41 yards) and Jayy McDonald (eight carries for 34 yards) were Tarleton’s leading rushers.
On defense, Hafford recorded two fumble recoveries, with defensive back Bryon Broussard forcing the other. Harris and Ronnell Wilson each led with 11 total tackles, while defensive lineman Javier Duran had 10. Duran also had 1.5 sacks, with Markel Clark adding a sack, as well.
Self completed 18-of-26 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown for SFA. Moe Wedman led the Lumberjacks’ receiving core with 72 yards on three catches. Reed led the SFA rushing attack with 71 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Tarleton returns to Stephenville for their home opener on Saturday against Fort Lewis, held at Memorial Stadium at 6 p.m. CT.