Jerome Regal just wanted to help the team win its 2012 season opener after being away for most of a year following the birth of his daughter. Zach Henshaw was a wide-eyed freshman playing in his first college game.

Neither could have imagined what they would turn into - one of the most respected backfields in the Lone Star Conference.

It was a season opener against Midwestern State, at the time ranked fourth in the nation. Regal rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns on a workmanlike 33 carries, helping Tarleton pull off a 20-17 upset. Henshaw played a lesser role in his first game, carrying the ball just twice for four yards.

But Henshaw remembers his fourth-down conversion the same way Regal remembers darting through defenders for crucial first downs that kept Midwestern's own daunting rushing attack off the field.

"The first play I got in, it's fourth-down-and-one in the first game against Midwestern, so that definitely brought the nerves," said Henshaw, from Canyon Lake. "It was like, 'Great, I better get this.'"

He did, then a week later he rushed just once - albeit for 21 yards - against Abilene Christian while watching Regal rack up 103 yards on 13 carries. It was becoming more and more apparent the sophomore from Naaman Forest High School in Garland would be the Texans' primary back for the season.

But Henshaw was about to get his chance, and Tarleton was about to build a fearsome 1-2 punch, even if it would be almost a full year before they would again be on the field together.

Following the ACU game, Regal broke his jaw in practice while preparing to take on Eastern New Mexico. That meant Henshaw was instantly next in line, splitting duties with Vaughn Smith - who left the team during 2013 preseason camp - and rushing for 113 yards and his first collegiate touchdown against the Greyhounds. He topped 100 yards rushing twice more last fall, finishing with 562 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging better than five yards per carry.

Smith rushed for 794 yards to lead the team. Regal didn't return after leading the LSC with 257 yards in the opening two games, and was later granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA.

Fowler knew the Texans had an abundance of depth at running back. Even though Smith's departure left him with two dynamic backs instead of three, he was confident.

"I think they're two of the best in the conference," Fowler said. "And we have them both right here."

And the youngsters - both sophomores now by classification - have not disappointed.

The opponent was again Midwestern, and it was again a season and Lone Star Conference opener. But there were two big differences between the game played in 2012 in Stephenville and the one played 13 days ago in Arlington - Henshaw and Regal were a year older and better, and the stage was the grandest in sports at AT&T Stadium.

Henshaw rushed 19 times for 87 yards. Not to be outdone, Regal rushed for 86 including a touchdown on 18 trips. They combined for 173 yards and Tarleton ran for 198, the most Midwestern, ranked 13th at the time of the game and 23rd now, had allowed since facing Tarleton the year before.

"We plan on doing whatever works for the offense," Regal said the week following the win over Midwestern. "No matter if its 18 carries for me and 16 for him, or 20 carries for him and 18 for me. We don't care who gets more carries, it's all about the 'W.'"

Angelo State did a much better job against Henshaw and Regal, limiting them to a combined 44 yards on the ground when Tarleton beat the Rams 38-34 last Saturday. Fowler says they were still a big part of the win.

"Did you see what it took to stop them?" Fowler said. "If every team wants to commit that much to stopping those guys, that's fine because we can beat you with (quarterback) Aaron Doyle running the ball and we can beat you passing the ball. That's the great thing about our offense."

While much of the defensive attention was on Regal and Henshaw, Doyle rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown. He and quarterback Jake Fenske also took time to find Clifton Rhodes III downfield, hitting the receiver five times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. That included the game winner in the final minute.

"I think the things Regal and Henshaw did against Midwestern helped us beat Angelo," Fowler said. "They took some of the attention off other guys and freed them up, no doubt about it."

Fowler realizes either could be a feature back, but Regal and Henshaw embrace their joint role.

"I love the rotation we have going on here. Defenses can't get used to us and our different running styles because we're always switching out," Henshaw said. "We stay fresh, plus it's fun rotating with someone whose like your brother. It's great for the team."

Regal echoed those sentiments.

"It's really nice rotating with Henshaw because we're totally different backs, and when you put us together it keeps teams off balance," Regal said. "I know once they take me out, he'll go out there and keep it going strong."

Fowler has confidence in both backs individually and in the tandem they make together, whether the opponent is Division I Abilene Christian like this Saturday, or Eastern New Mexico, who the Texans visit next week.

"I have confidence in them because I know what type of people they are," said Fowler. "They do things right, and if you keep doing that long enough, good things happen. Good things are happening for Jerome and Zach, and that's leading to good things happening for Tarleton."