Tarleton’s strong rushing night outdone by ACU’s passing attack in loss at Memorial

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STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton couldn’t be stopped on the ground Saturday, but Abilene Christian had their way through the air in the Wildcats’ 28-23 win at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

The Texans rushed for 178 yards in the first half, part of their 209-yard rushing night overall. However, ACU put up 389 yards through the air, including three passing touchdowns, to secure the five-point win in the Wildcats’ first trip to Stephenville since 2011. Tarleton falls to 5-4 overall and 1-2 in WAC play, while ACU improves to 6-3 (3-0 WAC).

Derrel Kelley III remained nearly unstoppable since he took over the starting running back spot, going for 114 yards on 18 carries (6.3 yards per rush), plus leading the team in receiving with 77 yards on five catches for 191 all-purpose yards. That’s his third straight 100+ yard game on the ground, the best stretch by a Tarleton running back since Daniel McCants had three straight in 2019. It was Kelley’s fourth 100+ yard game of the season, the most such games in the WAC.

Mookie Douglas joined Kelley with a strong game at running back, going for 84 yards on 18 carries (4.7 yards per rush) and a touchdown, his third of the season.

Tarleton QB Beau Allen completed 16-of-27 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, finding Shawn McFarland on a shovel pass in the third quarter to give Tarleton the lead, and Jaden Smith in the fourth to keep the Texans in it. McFarland’s was his first of the year, while Smith built on his WAC lead, posting his ninth receiving touchdown of the season.

Defensively, Tarleton was rock solid against the run, allowing just 68 rushing yards. Also, Donovan Banks provided the game’s lone turnovers, earning two interceptions on the game. They were his team-leading second and third interceptions of the season, and the second time in his career he’s posted a multi-interception game, his other coming against New Mexico State in 2020-21.

Both teams entered Saturday’s rivalry matchup nearly even across the board, including back-to-back positions in the latest ASUN-WAC Power Rankings at Nos. 4 and 5. Fittingly, it was a back-and-forth affair, with two lead changes and a tie.

ACU got the scoring on their first play from scrimmage, a Maverick McIvor 80-yard touchdown pass to Davion Johnson. Tarleton responded on their next drive, going 75 yards in 10 plays, capped off by Douglas and his 9-yard rushing TD. Three plays later, Banks earned his first of two interceptions on the night.

Abilene Christian started the second with a Kobe Clark 22-yard touchdown reception from McIvor to take a 14-7 lead. Tarleton kicker Adrian Guzman split the uprights from 26 yards out to make it 14-10 at the break.

The Texans scored the lone points of the third quarter with McFarland’s 1-yard TD reception, putting Tarleton ahead 17-14 entering the final frame. McIvor and Clark hooked up again to start the fourth, this time from 19 yards out, to give the Wildcats the lead, 21-17. Anthony Smith scored on a 2-yard scamper with 5:48 left to make it 28-17. Tarleton needed a touchdown and they got a touchdown, with Allen finding Smith near the end zone boundary to make it 28-23. Tarleton didn’t succeed on the two-point conversion nor the onside kick, and a few first downs later gave ACU the opportunity to run out the clock.

McIvor finished with 385 passing yards for ACU, to go with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The leading running back in the WAC entering Saturday, Jermiah Dobbins, had just 14 yards on five carries for ACU. Tristan Golightly (seven catches for 117 yards) and Clark (seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns) each crossed the century mark for the Wildcats.

Tarleton has two remaining games in the 2022-23 campaign, one on the road and the other at home. They’ll be at Utah Tech this coming Saturday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m. CT for their road finale in St. George, Utah. The Texans won there last year 42-21.

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