Bitson’s Big Night at the Rangers’ Old Park Spoiled by Southern Utah Late Drive

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ARLINGTON – It was a fun night at the Texas Rangers’ old stadium, as Tarleton and Southern Utah played a thriller on Saturday night. Southern Utah used a late drive to take the lead, and ultimately the game, 40-35.

The Texans (1-2, 0-1 WAC) hosted the Thunderbirds (1-2, 0-0 Big Sky) at Choctaw Stadium, formerly called Globe Life Park, and both offenses were ready for this one. The first six drives of the game ended in touchdowns, with Southern Utah scoring first on a David Atencio 16-yard catch from Justin Miller.

The first three Texan drives all ended in touchdowns by wide receiver Tariq Bitson, who caught scores from Steven Duncan from seven yards, 15 yards and four yards. He’s the first Tarleton player with three touchdown receptions in a game since Zimari Manning had three at Western New Mexico on Nov. 16, 2019. Bitson finished with six catches for 82 yards and three TD’s.

After both teams traded three touchdowns apiece and with the score tied at 21 late in the second quarter, the first offensive mistake was made, with Miller throwing one into the hands of defensive back Devin Hafford, who returned it 35 yards for the defensive touchdown to put the Texans up 28-21. It was Hafford’s first interception since 2018, but he wasn’t done, earning another interception in the second half. In two of Tarleton’s first three games, Hafford has had multiple takeaways.

The Thunderbirds marched down at the end of the first half, managing to shake off the interception to tie it at halftime 28-28 with a Brandon Schenks 32-yard reception from Miller.

The second half was far different than the first half, with defenses stepping up to flip the script. The first one to strike was Southern Utah at the end of the third, thanks to David Moore III’s 6-yard touchdown rush. However, the Thunderbirds missed the extra point, which almost proved to be vital.

The Texans took the lead in the middle of the final frame on Duncan’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, this one to running back Daniel Wright Jr. for a 27-yard score. The Texans led 35-34 with less than two minutes remaining, but Southern Utah would not be denied at the end. Karris Davis scored from three yards out to put the Thunderbirds up for good, 40-35, and Southern Utah’s defense stopped the last two Tarleton gasps.

Duncan finished with 241 yards on 18-of-26 passing, adding his four touchdowns and an interception. Jayy McDonald led the Tarleton rushing attack with 68 yards on 10 carries. Linebacker D.J. Harris had his third straight game with double-digit tackles, finishing with 10 (seven solo).

Miller had 304 yards on 24-of-35 passing, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Schenks had 109 yards on seven catches and three touchdowns. Davis ran it 13 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis had 11 tackles, an interception and a sack for the Thunderbirds.

The Texans will next play a true home game against New Mexico Highlands on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. CT back at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville.


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