STEPHENVILLE — The reclassification period from NCAA Division II to Division I is one of the toughest things any program can face. For Tarleton Football, they’ve made it look easy.
The Texans crushed Houston Christian 49-7 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in the 2022 season finale to finish 6-5 on the year, completing their third straight winning season to start their reclassification period. They are just the fourth program since 2004 to start that period with three straight winning seasons, joining habitual national champion North Dakota State, playoff regulars South Dakota State, and oft-successful Central Arkansas.
In fact, Tarleton’s .567 winning percentage since the reclassification period began is the fifth best winning percentage among schools done with reclassification or with a year left in that same time frame.
Credit head coach Todd Whitten and his staff for continually fielding winning teams without shying away from tough opponents, as they take on more and more Division I programs every year, including the No. 4 ranked team in the College Football Playoff this year, TCU.
There’s no reason to think this won’t continue either. Actually, the future has never been so bright.
Following Saturday’s 42-point win, Tarleton’s largest contributors reached major milestones and sit atop the WAC leaderboards. The added bonus? Tarleton’s largest contributors are young players.
Quarterback Beau Allen, a redshirt freshman, neared 3,000 passing yards on the year after passing for 207 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. It was his fourth 3+ touchdown game of the season, totaling 23 on the year, the most in the Western Athletic Conference.
Also on Saturday, Tarleton had a 1,000 yard rusher, a 1,000 yard receiver, and another receiver reach double-digit TD numbers. Sophomore Derrel Kelley III exploded for 239 yards on 24 carries (10.0 yards per rush) and two touchdowns, going for 1,004 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns this season. His 239 yards are the fourth most rushing yards in a single-game in program history, just 30 short of the all-time mark. Sophomore wide receiver Darius Cooper had another big day with six catches for 155 yards and a score to finish with 1,063 yards on 54 receptions, plus nine touchdowns this year. Junior wide receiver Jaden Smith caught his team-leading 10th touchdown of the year in the game, going for 48 catches and 822 yards total.
Of course, Tarleton had major contributors out of their senior class, who they celebrated with a pregame ceremony on Senior Day. Saturday marked the last collegiate game for Zechariah Hopkins, Mookie Douglas, Gabe Douglas, Michael Irons, Donovan Banks, Blaine Hoover, Antwoine Ware, Audley Isaacs Jr., Jaicorious Johnson, Segun Ijiyera, Kendall Dearth, Austin Whitehead, Shawn McFarland and Dionte Brooks, all integral members of the program.
As for the game itself, Tarleton’s defense set the tone almost immediately. On the third play of the game, junior defensive back Josh Kemp picked off HCU QB Justin Fomby and returned it 26 yards for the touchdown less than a minute into the game. That was Kemp’s first career interception and his first touchdown.
Tarleton then forced a three-and-out to put the offense on the field for the first time, and the Texans had no issue marching down the field quickly, going 69 yards in four plays, with Kelley scoring his first of two scores from five yards out. Just like that, four minutes in, Tarleton led 14-0.
The Texans ended the first quarter up 28-0, with an Allen to Smith two-yard touchdown near the five-minute mark, followed by Banks’ second pick-six of the year, his team-leading fourth interception of the season. Banks returned this interception 30 yards for the TD.
The only time HCU (2-9 overall, 1-5 SLC) threatened to score the entire game was aided by Tarleton, who muffed a punt to put the Huskies at the Texans’ 34-yard line at the start of the second quarter. Fomby found Deuce McMillan for a 24-yard TD connection to make it 28-7 Tarleton. Other than that, it was pure domination for the purple and white.
Cooper caught a 14-yard touchdown from Allen late in the second quarter to send Tarleton to the locker room with a 35-7 lead after a 13-play, 98-yard drive that covered 6:30 of game time. In the third, Allen found Dejuan Miller in the end zone from three yards out, Miller’s first Tarleton touchdown in his third game played this season. That touchdown was set up by Kelley, who broke free for an 83-yard run to the Huskies’ 7-yard line. He’d finish the deal later in the third for his second touchdown, a three-yard scamper. At 239 yards on the night and the game in hand, he did not play the final quarter. Tarleton mostly coasted in the fourth quarter with a 42-point lead, getting others some run in the last game.
Defensively, Hoover and Bryson Collins each forced a fumble, and Ijiyera and Zach Strong each recovered a fumble, giving Tarleton four takeaways on the day.
The Texan defense had 14 plays result in negative yardage for the Huskies on the day, with Hoover leading the charge at 3.0 TFL and a sack. Six different Texans had a sack; Hoover, Kemp, Collins, Javier Duran, Jalen Carr and Robert Rios. Qua’Shawn Washington, like he did all season, led the team in tackles with six, going for 75 on the year in nine games.
Tarleton outgained HCU in total yardage 516-135, forcing Houston Christian to -21 rushing yards. Repeat – negative 21 rushing yards. That’s the fewest amount against Tarleton in at least the past 10 years. The Texans raced for a season-high 309 yards on the ground themselves, their most since 347 against Fort Lewis last year on Sept. 11.
Now with 2022 in the books, Tarleton looks ahead to next season. That will be the Texans’ final year of the reclassification period.