SAN ANGELO - Tarleton's defense came to the rescue by forcing five turnovers and returning two fumbles for scores in a 30-24 road win over Angelo State to open up Lone Star Conference play.
Tarleton (2-1, 1-0) had to grind until the very end for its second consecutive victory. The Texans only had 291 yards of offense compared to Angelo State's 545 yards.
The Texans appeared to be well on their way to another rout over the Rams (2-1, 0-1) after taking the opening drive of the game 89 yards and capping it off with an 11-yard touchdown run by Adam Berryman.
However, it was the only offensive touchdown of the game for Tarleton.
After Sergio Sroka drilled a 28-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, the Rams got on the board with 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Texan lead to 10-7. The Texans went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but it was the defense that stepped up to keep the lead intact.
With the ball at midfield, Tyrell Thompson forced a fumble that led to a touchdown for the second straight week. This time it was Chase Varnado would scooped up the loose ball and ran it back 40 yards for the score to give the Texans a 17-7 advantage with 11 minutes left in the first half.
Angelo State scored the next 10 points to tie the game at 17-17 on an 8-yard pass followed by a Tarleton interception to set up a 25-yard field goal by the Rams.
The Rams were looking to take the lead at the end of the first half as they got the ball with 1:44 on the clock. On 3rd-and-10 from their own 19, EJ Speed, who led the nation in forced fumbles last season, picked up where he left off by forcing and returning a fumble for 10 yards and a touchdown. Speed's score gave Tarleton a 24-17 lead at the break.
Angelo State's first drive of the second half mirrored how they closed the first, with a Texan defender forcing a fumble. This time Basil Jackson forced and recovered the fumble at midfield for the third fumble recovery of the game.
Four minutes later, Angelo State was in the midst of a 66-yard drive down to Tarleton's 22-yard line. ASU quarterback Jake Faber attempted a pass down the Texan sideline, but Andrew Blackshireintercepted it at the 11 for the fourth takeaway of the game.
Still in the third quarter, the Rams had the ball at their own 32 and a second down pass was intercepted by Tre Johnson at midfield, who then returned the ball 32 yards down to the ASU 5. The fifth turnover of the game set up Sroka for his second field goal, a 22-yard kick for a 27-17 lead with 3:34 left in the third.
The defense once again created points for the offense in the third quarter. On fourth down and lined up to punt, EJ Speed sprinted around the Angelo line to block the punt to give Tarleton the ball at the Angelo 20. However, the offense could not capitalize and settled for a 38-yard field goal by Sroka for a 30-17 lead.
In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Angelo State had the ball at the Tarleton 5 looking to score. Four straight rushing attempts were stopped by the Texan defense, including on 4th-and-goal at the one with Speed stuffing the quarterback for a 2-yard loss and a turnover on downs to preserve the 30-24 lead.
The Rams added a touchdown with 7:05 left on the clock to make it 30-24. Tarleton took over with 6:58 on the clock and after struggling to run the ball all game, Xavier Turner was the workhorse that helped run out the clock. Turner had 36 yards on the ground in the final drive that helped Tarleton run out the clock for the road victory.
Offensively, quarterback Zed Woerner was 14-of-28 passing for 208 yards. Woerner's top target was Del'Michael High, who had his first 100-yard receiving game of the year with eight catches for 119 yards. Savon Rollison added three catches for 52 yards. Turner led the Texan rushing attack with 70 yards on 18 carries.
Basil Jackson had double-digit tackles for the third straight game, posting a game-high 17 tackles to go with his forced fumble and recovery. Devin Hafford and EJ Speed each had eight tackles. Tyrell Thompson had the lone sack of the game for the Texan defense to go with six tackles and a forced fumble.
Tarleton will return home to take on West Texas A&M for family weekend on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.