ARLINGTON - Tarleton State overcame a sluggish start with a 27-0 run and upset Midwestern State in a season opener for the second straight year.
Quarterbacks Jake Fenske and Aaron Doyle combined to go 24-29 through the air, and Zach Henshaw and Jerome Regal combined for 175 yards on the ground as the Texans won 27-24 in the Lone Star Football Festival at AT&T Stadium Saturday.
"We have two quarterbacks who are great leaders and two running backs we know can get it done," said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "Those guys give us the chance to always be effective and balanced offensively, and that's how we were today."
Fenske was 11-of-12 passing including touchdowns to Bubba Tandy covering eight yards and Le'Nard Meyers from 18 yards out. Both scores came in the third quarter before a 42-yard touchdown sprint by Regal made it 27-10, only 13 seconds into the fourth.
Doyle was 13-17 passing as the two QBs combined for 182 yards through the air and Tarleton tallied 380 total yards. Clifton Rhodes III had eight receptions for 50 yards.
Tarleton ran 80 plays, matching its average from last season.
"Our tempo is crucial to what we do," said Doyle. "At the end of scoring drives, you could see defensive linemen bent over huffing and puffing, and that's when we knew we were in control and were going to score."
Midwestern scored on a 44-yard pass from Jake Glover to Jalen Moore, and struck again with a 12-yard TD from Glover to Sanders to cut its deficit to 27-24 with 7:56 left. Glover replaced Shavodrick Beaver at quarterback, going 11-18 for 174 yards after Beaver was 6-9 for 85 yards.
The Mustangs appeared to take possession on an interception of a third-down pass deep in their own territory with 3:53 left, but a pass interference penalty negated the pick and gave Tarleton a new set of downs.
Midwestern held its ground the next three plays to force Tarleton into a 41-yard field goal try, and Elijah Winston blocked it to keep the Mustangs within three with 2:39 left.
Glover completed two passes to Joe Sanders to move the Mustangs into Tarleton territory, but on fourth down from the 45, true freshman Jared Thames, from Glen Rose, ran him down for a sack to seal the win.
The Tarleton defense held All-American Keidrick Jackson to just 46 rushing yards and only 2.7 per carry. The Mustangs, who averaged 323.9 rushing yards per game last season, were held to just 75 on 34 carries by the TSU defense. Linebacker Marc Martinez led the defensive effort with 13 tackles for the Texans.
"You hold Midwestern to 75 yards rushing, that's a great job," said Fowler. "That's the difference right there."
MSU finished with 334 total yards.
"We haven't run it like that in 12 years, " said veteran MSU head coach Bill Maskill. "But I think that has more to do with what they did than anything we didn't do."
Midwestern scored on a 34-yard pass from Beaver to Dante Taylor with 5:53 left in the first, and Greg Saladino made it 10-0 with a 25-yard field goal with 9:31 left in the second before Tarleton began its big run.
Tarleton has won nine of its last 11 against Midwestern and improved to 2-2 against the Mustangs under Fowler. He was defensive coordinator at Midwestern before moving to Tarleton in 2008 and being promoted to head coach of the Texans in 2010.
Tarleton improved to 1-1 in AT&T Stadium and in the Lone Star Football Festival. The Texans lost 34-31 to Abilene Christian last year. Midwestern was previously unbeaten in the event and at the venue, having routed Texas A&M-Commerce the last two years.
The Texans will try for their first 2-0 start under Fowler when they visit Angelo State at 7 p.m. next Saturday in San Angelo.