CONWAY, Ark. — Nothing about the conditions surrounding Tarleton State’s game on Saturday seemed favorable, but the Texans have proven for four straight years at the NCAA Division I level they only know one thing – winning.
The Texans cemented their fourth straight winning season with an upset bid over No. 18 Central Arkansas on the road 25-23. By improving to 6-3 with two games to play, the Texans became just the third program since 2004 to post winning seasons in each of their reclassifying seasons, joining North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
It was a downpour in Conway, Arkansas, on the Bears’ homecoming weekend, and the Texans spoiled the festivities more by snapping UCA’s four-game winning streak. This was Tarleton’s first game against an FCS ranked opponent since joining the subdivision, and they defeated a Bears’ team who was 4-0 at home and ranked seventh in total offense at 455.6 yards per game.
The Texans (6-3, 2-2 UAC) outgained the Bears (5-3, 2-1 UAC) 376-347, winning the time of possession 32:55 to 27:05.
Kayvon Britten stole the show in the United Athletic Conference showdown between two of the conference’s top running backs, rushing for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries (7.1 YPC). His first touchdown was a 38-yard, Marshawn Lynch-like “Beast Mode” run with several alterations and a plow over the defensive back at the end. He also opened the fourth quarter with a 59-yard score to give the Texans the game’s first two-possession lead, 22-10.
The Texan defense held off UCA at the end as the Bears wouldn’t go quietly. Down eight, Central Arkansas scored a touchdown after a 72-yard march in 1:45 with 14 seconds remaining. But needing the two-point conversion for the tie, Tarleton’s Caimyn Layne got to UCA QB Will McElvain quickly and forced him into a spinning incompletion to seal the win for the Purple and White. UCA tried a unique onside kick by booting it over Tarleton’s line, but Tucker Swoboda gobbled it up and Texan QB Victor Gabalis went in victory formation to send the Texans home with the win.
Tarleton’s defense held UCA at bay for most of the night, earning six tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, seven pass breakups, a blocked field goal, and that final two-point try stop. Blake Smith had a team-high 12 tackles. Devin Sterling had two tackles for loss among his six total. Ty Rawls and Josh Griffis each had a sack, with Rawls adding two pass breakups. Bryson Collins was credited with the field goal block to end the first half, adding four tackles and a TFL on the night.
Gabalis completed 12-of-21 passes for 168 yards on the wet Saturday. Trevon West was the leading receiver with 60 yards on three catches. Darius Cooper had 58 yards on two catches, including a one-handed sure-to-be SportsCenter Top-10 grab. Benjamin Omayebu recorded five catches for 46 yards.
One of the biggest storylines coming into Saturday was how Tarleton would handle UCA RB ShunDerrick Powell. Powell entered as the conference leader in rushing yards per game, and ran for 204 yards plus three touchdowns on 13 carries just a year prior against Tarleton while with North Alabama. This time around, Tyrone Nix and his defense shut him down to just four yards on six carries.
Upon walking onto a flooded Estes Stadium, Tarleton embraced it, spending even more time warming up pregame it seemed in the sopping conditions, while UCA stayed dry by warming up in their indoor practice facility.
The Texans were the tougher team early, forcing two three-and-outs and striking first with an Adrian Guzman 22-yard field goal at the 3:14 mark in the first quarter.
UCA took their first lead on their first drive in the second quarter, capping off a 16-play, 66-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown connection between McElvain and Jordan Owens. On Tarleton’s ensuing drive, the Texans used a 25-yard Omayebu reception to give Guzman a chance from 43 yards out. He split the uprights to make it a 7-6 Texan deficit.
On Tarleton’s next drive, they scored their first touchdown to take a 13-7 lead, going 79 yards in nearly five minutes, with Britten bursting ahead for a 38-yard score, his 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
UCA nearly answered to end the first half, thanks to a 51-yard rush by Kylin James to put UCA in the red zone. With time waning, Tarleton’s defense held firm and forced a field goal try that was blocked by Collins to send the Texans into the locker room up 13-7.
To open the third quarter, the Bears forced the game’s lone turnover on a sack fumble by Gabalis that spoiled a solid Texan drive. They threatened by getting to Tarleton’s 3-yard line, but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal to make it 13-10 Texans.
Guzman answered right back with his third field goal of the night to boost the lead back to six, 16-10, from 25 yards out.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Britten broke free for 59 yards and his 11th rushing touchdown of the season. Tarleton went for two and didn’t get it, making it a 22-10 game.
McElvain found James for a 19-yard score to quickly answer, cutting it to a 22-17 game with 10:41 to play.
With about seven minutes to play, Griffis came up with a huge third down strip sack, to force a Bears punt when UCA had the momentum. That led to Guzman’s fourth field goal on the night, this one from 36 yards out, to extend the Texan lead to 25-17 with 1:59 remaining.
Central Arkansas had several chunk plays lead to a McElvain-Owens three-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left to make it 25-23 Tarleton. Layne’s pressure on the two-point try got to UCA, and Tarleton State left Conway with the conference victory.
The Texans improved to 3-2 on the road this year, their most road wins since 2019. That was also the last time Tarleton started a season 6-3 or better overall.
They have just two games remaining and will host their final home game of 2023 on Saturday, Nov. 4, against Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. It will be both Senior Night and Military Appreciation for the conference battle at Memorial Stadium.