Clifton Rhodes III hauled in three touchdown passes, the last coming on a deflected pass with 30 seconds remaining, to lift Tarleton State (2-0, 2-0) to a 38-34 victory over Angelo State (1-2, 0-1) at San Angelo Stadium Stadium Saturday night.
ASU took a 34-31 lead on Blake Smith's one-yard TD plunge with 1:48 remaining, but that was more than enough time for Jake Fenske and company. The game-winning drive went eight plays and 83 yards after beginning with a false start penalty.
Fenske was 4-8 passing for 71 yards on the drive, including the 35-yard touchdown to Rhodes. There were two defenders in front of Rhodes at the goal line. The ball was deflected, and Rhodes gathered it in as he fell into the end zone.
"It just shows you have to be ready each and every play. You never know when your number will be called. Mine just happened to be called on the last drive of the game," said Rhodes, who caught five passes for 103 yards. "I was just tuned in on the ball. We had to have it; it was a big play for the team."
ASU had one final chance, and got great field position after a long kickoff return and a 15-yard helmet-to-helmet contact penalty against the Texans. Kyle Washington moved the Rams to the Tarleton 17 with completions to Quinn Reels and Alex Young, the latter coming with four seconds left.
ASU used its last timeout, but Devin Figures intercepted Washington's final pass just outside the goal line, and Tarleton held on.
Aaron Doyle passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another score as part of Tarleton's two-man quarterback rotation. Doyle is known to be the more mobile of the two, but it was Fenske who converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard run to the 50 on the game-winning drive.
It was Tarleton's 12th straight victory over the Rams, giving fourth-year head coach Cary Fowler his first 2-0 start.
But it didn't appear that's how it would end. After a missed field goal, the Rams drove 80 yards in eight plays, culminating in Smith's go-ahead score to complete a comeback from a 31-20 deficit.
The Rams had previously trimmed the Tarleton lead to five on a highlight-reel 48-yard TD by Reels, who took a shuttle pass from the middle of the field to the right sideline then weaved through defenders before dragging the final one into the end zone with 7:32 remaining.
ASU rushed for 252 yards and amassed 538 total yards to Tarleton's 472. The teams combined for 1,010 yards.
Smith rushed for 104 yards, Jeremie Calhoun added 103 and Washington ran for 45 for the Rams just a week after Tarleton limited Midwestern State to only 79 yards on the ground. Washington was also 20-31 passing for 286 yards.
The Texans responded with 338 yards passing and 134 rushing. Doyle was 10-21 passing for 171 yards and rushed for 69 yards. Fenske was 13-29 for 167 yards. Running backs Zach Henshaw and Jerome Regal were limited to a combined 44 yards after teaming up for 173 against MSU.
Tarleton appeared in control after Rhodes hauled in touchdown passes of 22 and 29 yards, followed by a eight-yard Jeken Frye TD catch for a 21-7 lead with 7:23 left in the first half. But the Texans failed to convert a first down in the third quarter, and ASU crept closer.
The Rams made it 21-14 when Washington kept it for a 9-yard TD with less than two minutes left in the half. They missed a field goal early in the third, but returned to the end zone on a 17-yard sprint by Washington late in the period. The Rams missed the ensuing extra point, which would have tied the game.
Blake Barnes drilled a 45-yard field goal to push Tarleton's lead to 24-20, and Doyle scored on a one-yard keeper to give the Texans a two-possession advantage before the real fireworks got under way in a fourth-quarter where the teams combined for 31 points.