Texans Send Seniors Off in Style with Big Win Over Central Arkansas in Season Finale

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STEPHENVILLE – Saturday marked the end of legendary Tarleton Texan careers. Some players had six seasons’ worth of hard work, dedication and sacrifice come to a close at Memorial Stadium, all in one final football game against Central Arkansas.

Boy, did it end on a high note.

The Texans won big over the Bears 24-3, finishing their second year at the NCAA Division I FCS level with a winning record once again, this time 6-5 (2-3 WAC). This is the fourth straight season Tarleton had a winning record. It’s the 11th time in 12 seasons under head coach Todd Whitten that the Texans ended .500 or better.

The Bears, meanwhile, dropped to 5-6 (1-1 ASUN) in 2021. It’s their first losing record for a season since 2009, compliments of Tarleton.

To start the evening, Tarleton honored close to two dozen players who were wearing the purple and white for the final time. It was an emotional time for everybody, and an honor for all players, coaches and families to be a part of the special event. But alas, emotion had to give way to toughness in a hurry as the ball was placed on the turf just minutes later.

Senior Jayy McDonald played just one year at Tarleton but left his mark on the program, ending his short tenure with 146 rushing yards on 12 carries, good for 12.2 yards per carry, including a 53-yard TD scamper. His 146 yards on the ground was the most by a Texan this season, as he finished with four scores on the year.

Other seniors had epic performances, including Sean Walton, who recorded two sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss, eight tackles and a quarterback hurry. He ended 2021 with 4.5 sacks and 10.0 TFL. In his collegiate career, the Texans went 38-14 when Walton was on the field.

Senior Tre Johnson earned his first interception of the season, the second of his career, to go with six tackles. Senior Benjie Franklin capped the night off with his third interception of the year, his eighth at Tarleton. Senior Chris Radford had half-a-sack, 1.5 TFL and three tackles. The other-half sack went to senior ChadWick Thibodeaux. Senior Devin Hafford ended his legendary career with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss.

Senior Ryheem Skinner rushed for 74 yards on 15 carries, finishing his Tarleton career with 1,507 rushing yards. Seniors Tariq Bitson and J.F. Thomas had a combined three receptions for 60 yards.

The Texan defense held a UCA team averaging 32.3 points per game entering Saturday to just three points and 161 total yards, 69 through the air and 92 on the ground. This was Central Arkansas’ lowest scoring game since Nov. 9, 2019. It was the fewest amount of points and yards allowed by the Texans this season.

The Bears actually scored first in this one, with Hayden Ray splitting the uprights from 24 yards out in the second quarter to give them a 3-0 lead.

In the middle of the same quarter, the Texans needed just two plays on a drive to score the game’s first touchdown, with McDonald’s 53-yard score putting the Texans ahead 7-3. Adrian Guzman nailed a 19-yard field goal on Tarleton’s final drive of the first half, and Johnson earned his pick to send the Texans to the locker room up 10-3.

Towards the end of the third quarter, Steven Duncan threw his first of two touchdowns on the day to Derrel Kelley III. Duncan led the team on an 86-yard scoring drive, capping it off with a five-yard screen pass to the right, which Kelley stretched across the goal line to give Tarleton a 17-3 advantage.

Tamaurian Wilson picked off Duncan in the middle of the fourth quarter to keep the Bears in it, but the Texans swiftly shut them down with a three-and-out. Tarleton then followed with a Gabe Douglas 34-yard touchdown catch from Duncan to put the Texans up 24-3 with just five minutes left.

The Bears attempted one last drive that was killed by Franklin’s interception with 1:15 remaining.

Duncan finished with 217 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-22 passing. The signal caller also had some big runs on the day, gaining 54 yards on the ground not including sacks, officially finishing with 35 rushing yards. Antwoine Ware was his favorite receiver, leading the team with three catches for 59 yards.

Central Arkansas sent three quarterbacks on the field at some point Saturday in an attempt to replace starting QB Breylin Smith, who missed the game with a broken ankle. Darius Bowers started and finished, completing 4-of-13 passes for 43 yards and an INT. Hunter Loyd was 4-of-12 for 26 yards, and Tyler Gee came in for one pass at the end of the first half, promptly throwing an interception to Johnson.

Darius Hale had 76 yards on 21 carries. Tyler Hudson led UCA with 29 receiving yards.

The Texans’ 2021 season is now over, as they’re not eligible for postseason play with this being their second year of a four-year reclassification period. They’ve played 19 games in the calendar year at the FCS level, sporting an 11-8 record. Over the past four seasons under Whitten, the Texans have posted a 34-10 (.773) record. Whitten, already the winningest coach in Tarleton history, improved to 90-45 (.667) at the helm for the team from Stephenville.

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