LAKE CHARLES, La. — What a start to the 2023 Tarleton State Football campaign.
The Texans exploded for their most points in a season opener in 21 years, scoring 35 unanswered in the second half to roll McNeese on the road 52-34. Tarleton (1-0, 0-0 UAC) beat McNeese (0-1, 0-0 SLC) on their home field, Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in front of 12,074 fans on Saturday night.
Although the game was tight through the first three quarters, Tarleton State dominated in nearly every area of the game. The Texans outgained McNeese 554-278 in total yardage, averaging 7.5 yards per play to the Cowboys’ 3.6. Tarleton passed for 344 yards and rushed for 210, earning 30 first downs to McNeese’s 18. The Texans scored seven touchdowns total, six on offense and a late Patrick Jones pick-six to seal the deal.
New Tarleton running back Kayvon Britten had a hat trick, scoring three touchdowns on the night, two on the ground (19 carries for 82 yards) and one receiving (two catches for 25 yards). Derrel Kelley III carried over his elite play from last season, rushing for 136 yards on 18 carries (7.6 yards per rush) and a touchdown.
New Tarleton quarterback Victor Gabalis completed 20-of-34 (.588) passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns, shaking off two interceptions and a lost fumble. He found three different receivers for scores; Britten, Dejuan Miller (two receptions, 81 yards) and Jaden Smith (two receptions, 37 yards). Darius Cooper led the receiving group with 96 yards on six catches, while Benjamin Omayebu recorded six catches for 54 yards and Keylan Johnson netted a 36-yard reception.
Defensively, six different Texans recorded a sack; Kyle Taylor, Devin Sterling, Brandon Tolvert, O’tay Baker, Caimyn Layne, and Bryson Collins. Jones had a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown to go with a team-high seven tackles. Collins had six tackles with his sack, and Tolvert had two tackles for loss. Tarleton forced eight McNeese plays for a loss.
This marks the first win by the Texans over McNeese in program history, snapping an 0-3 start to the series that began in 1949.
Saturday’s contest began with an hour-delay due to lightning in the area, prolonging kick off to 8 p.m. CT.
After three-and-outs by both teams to start, Kelley burst for a 40-yard run on the second drive to put the Texans in business early. Tarleton drove to the McNeese 9-yard line, but the Cowboys ended the threat with an interception to keep the game scoreless.
With about nine minutes to go in the opening frame, Jalen Carr returned a punt 35 yards to put Tarleton just outside of the red zone. It took just two plays for the Texans to score their first touchdown of the season from there, two rushes by Britten, capped off by his first touchdown for the Purple and White, a 9-yard scamper.
The Tarleton lead didn’t last long though, as the Cowboys answered with a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Cam Thomas to tie the game 7-7.
The Texans answered right back, although methodically this time, using a 12-play, 73-yard drive to take the lead once again. Gabalis threw his first touchdown as a Texan, tossing a high ball to Smith from five yards out that the human highlight reel came down with. The Texans led 14-7 after the opening frame.
On the Cowboys’ first drive of the second quarter, they put together a 10-play scoring drive, punched in by D’Angelo Durham on a six-yard rush to tie the game 14-14. The teams traded field goals the rest of the half, with Tarleton’s Adrian Guzman booting a 41-yarder as time expired to put the game 17-17 at the break.
McNeese opened the second half with their best drive of the night, a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown march, scored by quarterback Nate Glantz from a yard out to put the Cowboys ahead 21-14.
Midway through the third quarter, the game turned on its head and went fully Tarleton’s way.
At their own 38-yard line with about seven minutes to go in the third, Gabalis found a streaking Miller for a 62-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24-24.
On Tarleton’s next drive, they marched 64 yards down the field to take the lead 31-24, as Kelley ran in from nine yards out for his first touchdown of the year.
On the Texans’ first drive of the fourth quarter, they scored once again to make it 38-21, this time a Gabalis to Britten 16-yard connection.
The Texans forced a quick three-and-out, then achieved their fourth straight touchdown scoring drive, as Britten made it back-to-back and completed his hat trick with a three-yard TD to make it 45-21.
Adding insult to injury, the Texans made it 35 unanswered points on McNeese’s next drive, with Jones cutting a Tre Simmons’ pass for a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 52-24.
The Cowboys scored a touchdown late, recovered an onside kick and added a field goal as time expired to make it a 52-34 final.
This makes back-to-back seasons for the Texans to start 1-0. Their 52 points mark their most in a season-opener since 2002, when they blanked Southwest Assemblies of God 62-0. Their 52 points are their most scored overall since Nov. 9, 2019, a 58-3 win at William Jewell.
Next up, the Texans will hold their home opener on Saturday against North Alabama at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas, at 6 p.m. It will be a Purple Out game, with the first 1,000 fans in the gates receiving a free Purple Out shirt, courtesy of Tarleton Athletics.