A dropped pass and a kickoff return. That's how close Tarleton State came to extending its season with an invite to the 2012 Kanza Bowl in Topeka, Kan.
Instead, Texas A&M-Kingsville is bound for the Dec. 1 Kanza Bowl, where the Javelinas face Emporia State on Nov. 25.
Tarleton (6-4, 5-3) and A&M-Kingsville (6-5, 4-4) tied for third in the Lone Star Conference, which annually sends its top non-playoff qualifier to meet a team of the same fortune from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
The team's head-to-head meeting determined their fates. A&M-Kingsville used a 99-yard kickoff return by Jonathan Woodson and dropped touchdown pass by Tarleton's Jamal Mays to win 35-23 at Tarleton on Oct. 20.
Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler and a handful of seniors had expressed excitement last week about the possibility of the LSC participating in the Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove, but conference commissioner Stan Wagnon nixed that possibility, expressing concern with the timing. Wagnon was not contacted by the bowl until last Tuesday, according to an article published online Saturday by the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
"We're disappointed, especially for these seniors. One more game would be a priceless experience for those guys," said Fowler. "I'm also disappointed we don't get a couple more weeks to work with our young kids, because we have a promising young football team.
"It is what it is," Fowler continued. "If it's not sanctioned we can't play in it."
With no other bowl opportunities, Tarleton's season ends after the Texans amassed a season-best 580 yards in a 54-37 win against Angelo State Saturday. Both teams were playing for a winning season, and both had been contacted by the Heart of Texas Bowl concerning a possible invitation, according to the Caller Times.
The Texans lose 14 seniors, including fifth-year senior quarterback Jake Fenske, who passed for 1,025 yards and 10 touchdowns in Tarleton's season-ending win streak that proved to be the only starts of his career after Doyle was injured against A&M-Kingsville. They also lose Rufus Johnson, who made 10 sacks this fall, but return Doyle and almost all their skill players.
The young team lost two games by three points - falling 34-31 to Abilene Christian and 38-35 to Delta State - despite holding second-half leads and finishing with more total offense than their opponent in both.
Tarleton upset LSC co-champion Midwestern State 20-17 in its season opener, handing the Mustangs their only regular season loss of the last two years. It's other banner win was a 38-28 victory over North Alabama at legendary Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala., wiping out UNA's chance of a ninth straight playoff appearance.
The Texans were 3-8 in Fowler's first season and 4-13 after his first 17 games as head coach after being promoted from defensive coordinator. But they finished last season with five straight wins and are now 12-4 in their last 16 games.