Tarleton State (2-1) was sluggish to begin each half but used three big-play touchdowns and 564 yards of offense to keep Eastern New Mexico (2-2) at arm’s length in a 35-23 Lone Star Conference victory at Tarleton Memorial Stadium Saturday.
The Texans scored on three touchdown plays of more than 30 yards to make the difference, including a 69 yard Vaughn Smith scoring run to open up a two-possession lead after Eastern New Mexico had clawed back to within five midway through the fourth.
Smith rushed for 167 yards and two scores on just 16 carries and Zach Henshaw added 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 trips for Tarleton. The Texans were without LSC leading rusher Jerome Regal due to a broken jaw suffered during their previous game against Abilene Christian. He’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks, according to reports from representatives of the university’s athletics media relations office.
After a scoreless first quarter, Tarleton erupted for 21 points in the second, starting when Smith scored from 13 yards out nine seconds into the period. Eastern answered with the longest play of the night, an 80-yard TD pass from Wesley Wood to Dillon Metzger, but the Texans grabbed the lead for good when Clifton Rhodes III broke tackles and turned a bubble screen into a 31-yard TD.
Dylan Baca kicked a 33-yard field goal to pull the Hounds within four with just 1:13 left in the half, but Tarleton wasn’t done. Two quick completions moved the ball to midfield before Doyle launched a 50-yard TD pass to Jamal Mays, who beat the defense deep on a post pattern. It was a three-play 70-yard drive that took just 20 seconds and made it 21-10 at the half.
Eastern wouldn’t go away, pulling within four again on a 21-yard option keeper by Wood. Henshaw pushed Tarleton’s lead back to 11 with a three-yard TD - the first of his college career - but Eastern was right back to within five after Wood lofted an eight-yard TD pass to De’Coreyon Thomas with 7:56 still to play. Wood was stopped inches short of the goal line on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt.
But Smith found a gaping hole in the right side of the line almost three minutes later and raced away for his long TD to seal the deal as Tarleton beat the Hounds for the sixth time in seven years.
Doyle was 19-34 passing and had two interceptions to go with his two scores. He passed for 240 yards, 111 going to Rhodes on 10 catches. Tarleton was most effective on the ground, rushing for 324 yards.
Wood was 10-20 for 242 yards and two scores for ENMU.
Tarleton visits West Texas A&M in Canyon at 6 p.m. next Saturday.
Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports