STEPHENVILLE — Now that’s how a home opener is done.
The Tarleton State football team couldn’t be stopped in the second half for the second straight game, outscoring North Alabama 35-3 in the final 30 minutes to win 52-31 at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville on Saturday night.
The Texans (2-0, 1-0 UAC) won the first-ever United Athletic Conference game, dropping the Lions (1-2, 0-1 UAC) for the second time in as many seasons. On Purple Out, the Purple and White scored 52 points for the second straight game, this time in front of 20,127 fans, a new Tarleton State home opener attendance record.
Victor Gabalis and Keylan Johnson connected on four touchdowns, as Johnson tied the program record for touchdowns scored. He had six receptions for 219 yards, finishing with the fifth most receiving yards in a single game in team history.
The Texans are 2-0 for the first time in their NCAA Division I era, beginning the year with a pair of wins for the first time since 2019. They’ve scored 104 points over the first two contests, their most points in a two-game stretch since Nov. 2-9, 2019, which also marked the last time the Texans had consecutive games with 50-plus points scored.
Based on the team stats, one might think the score would be flipped. North Alabama ran 109 plays to Tarleton’s 55, they outgained the Texans 565-477 in total yardage, and owned the time of possession advantage of 36 minutes to Tarleton’s 24. But Tarleton State was much more efficient. They averaged 8.7 yards per play to UNA’s 5.2 and had 23.2 yards per completion to the Lions’ 9.5
The Texans also forced five fumbles and three turnovers, including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by Robert Rios to seal the game.
Saturday started with a kickoff delay of about 40 minutes due to lightning in the area, the second straight time Tarleton’s game has been delayed this season for the same reason. But that didn’t deter Texan fans, who turned out in the droves to pack Memorial Stadium to start the 2023 home campaign.
It was all North Alabama to start Saturday however. UNA began with a 64-yard drive, but the Texans forced the turnover to hold off the scoring threat, as Blake Smith forced a fumble, recovered by A.J. Sargent.
The Lions scored touchdowns on their next two drives to make it 14-0 UNA in the first quarter. The Texans responded with a Derrel Kelley III 12-yard touchdown rush to cut the deficit in half, then Gabalis found Johnson for his first of four touchdowns just before the first quarter expired to tie the game 14-14 at the break.
North Alabama then traded their two touchdowns in to go back up 14 late in the first half. With two minutes left, Adrian Guzman nailed a 25-yard field goal to make it 28-17 at halftime.
From there, it was all Texans. Gabalis found Johnson from 64 yards out to make it 28-24, then after a UNA field goal, the two hooked up again from 55 yards out this time to tie the game 31-31 with eight minutes to go in the third.
Texan running back Kayvon Britten gave the Texans their first lead with an 8-yard scoring rush with 4:17 to play in the third. Early in the fourth, Johnson caught his fourth touchdown from Gabalis to make it 45-31, then Rios’ pick-six capped off the 52-31 final.
Gabalis completed 13-of-22 passes for 301 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. His 22 pass attempts compared to UNA’s 64 on the game, including Lion starting quarterback Noah Walters, who went 36-of-63 for 342 yards, zero touchdowns and a pick.
Britten finished with 64 yards on 13 carries and a score, while Kelley had 56 yards on 11 attempts with a touchdown. Gabalis also rushed for 41 yards.
Defensively, three Texans finished with double-digit tackles. D.J. Harris had 12 tackles, a forced fumble, a sack and a quarterback hurry. Qua’Shawn Washington had 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Patrick Jones recorded 10 tackles and a pass breakup.
Smith ended up with two forced fumbles, to go with nine tackles. The Texans had four fumble recoveries on the night, one each by Washington, Kyle Taylor, Sargent and Jed Whitney.
The 2-0 Texans now turn their attention to Texas Tech. Tarleton will face the Red Raiders in Lubbock on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m.