CEDAR CITY, Utah — Winning college football games is never easy, head coach Todd Whitten has continually preached that. That proved to be the case on Saturday in Cedar City, Utah, as Tarleton survived a late push by Southern Utah to win 42-40 at Eccles Coliseum.
Patrick Jones provided the game-sealing interception with 21 seconds left and the Texans clinging to a two-point lead. Tarleton has now won three straight games to improve to 4-1 overall, winning their first conference game of the year (1-0 WAC). Southern Utah drops to .500 at 3-3 overall, 1-1 in WAC play.
A defensive first half for both teams turned into an offensive onslaught in the second half, the third quarter belonging to Tarleton, and the fourth quarter to Southern Utah. The Texans scored three touchdowns in the third to win the frame 21-3 and take a 35-13 lead into the fourth.
The Thunderbirds answered with four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, including one with 33 seconds left to make it a two-point game and a two-point try incoming. However, the Texan defense held strong on the try, putting pressure on quarterback Justin Miller and forcing an incompletion. SUU needed to recover the onside kick to have a chance, and based on the chaotic second half, it was only fitting the Thunderbirds recovered it to add to the dramatics. Jones silenced the home crowd on the first play of the ensuing drive, however, intercepting Miller and giving Tarleton the win, pulling out a backflip to celebrate in the process.
Tarleton defensive back Donovan Banks provided the much-needed points in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference with a 41-yard pick-six at the 4:07 mark to make it 42-27.
Texan QB Beau Allen had another day under center for the purple and white, finishing with 406 passing yards and three touchdowns (plus an interception), adding 55 rushing yards on 11 attempts. His 406 yards mark the 12th 400+ yard game in program history, and is the 11th most passing yards ever dished out in a single-game by a Tarleton quarterback. That’s now four 300+ yard performances in five games for Allen, and his third 3+ TD outing.
Tarleton’s triple-headed WR monster had another like performance, combining for 265 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Darius Cooper finished with three catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, Jaden Smith added three catches for 79 yards, while Gabe Douglas finished with two catches for 55 yards and a score. Antwoine Ware had a career-high 101 receiving yards on three catches, largely thanks to a 74-yard play that put Tarleton at the 1-yard line.
Defensively, Jones added six tackles and a pass breakup to his interception, while Banks had three tackles and a TFL with his INT TD. D.J. Harris (seven tackles) and Zach Strong (two tackles) each had a sack. Qua’Shawn Washington played in his first game since Sept. 10 and led the Texans with 10 tackles and three tackles for loss.
Neither team could get much going offensively in the first quarter, with six punts and an interception combined. The first quarter didn’t see a point, quite the contrast from last year’s meeting between these teams, where the first eight drives of the game resulted in touchdowns.
Southern Utah got on the scoreboard first with a Micah Pettit 35-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. On Tarleton’s next drive, the Texans found the end zone on a 4th and 1 from the Thunderbirds’ 48-yard line, with Allen finding a streaking Douglas who did the rest.
The Texans kept that momentum going on their next drive, once again scoring on a 48-yard touchdown pass, this time Allen to Cooper to make it 14-3. Southern Utah answered though with a 75-yard drive, capped off by a 22-yard Miller TD pass to Isaiah Williams. The half ended with Tarleton ahead 14-10.
Tarleton scored a touchdown on all three of their third quarter drives, essentially making it five straight touchdown scoring drives, if not counting the run-out-the clock first half single play. First it was Mookie Douglas scoring from a yard out, then it was Cody Henderson getting the ball lined up in the backfield for a 1-yard touchdown rush. To end the third quarter, Allen found Cooper for a 67-yard score to make it 35-13.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harris intercepted Miller and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty. Then suddenly, the Thunderbirds found their groove and Tarleton lost theirs. SUU scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives to make it 35-27, before Banks seemingly ended the game with his pick-six. SUU didn’t go away though, driving 59 yards in less than a minute in a two-minute drill. An onside kick and Jones’ interception later, it was Tarleton coming away victorious.
The Texans next head to Nacogdoches to take on Stephen F. Austin at Homer Bryce Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 4 p.m. CT. It will technically be SFA’s first conference game, although they’ve played two WAC teams over the past two weeks.