KINGSVILLE - Tarleton State had never won in Kingsville - until Saturday.
Like many of the Texans’ 10 losses in the Texas Valley, it wasn’t pretty. The 31-21 win, however, keeps the Texans undefeated at 6-0 and gives them a 1-0 record in the South Division of the Lone Star Conference. Texas A&M-Kingsville dropped to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the South.
Tarleton saw a 24-7 first-half lead evaporate thanks to a 14-0 second-quarter spurt by the Javelinas.
It wasn’t until Roderick Smith broke free for a 40-yard touchdown at the 5:45 mark of the third period that made it 31-21 that Tarleton was able to again establish some breathing room.
The Texans rode a second-half shut out by their conference-leading defense and a 141-yard effort by junior running back Michael Sampson in the win.
Sampson, finally back at 100-percent after suffering from a nagging early-season hamstring injury, carried the ball 24 times and scored a touchdown, his third of the season.
Ranardrick Phillips led the stop-troops with 15 tackles, one of which came behind the line of scrimmage.
“We had a great scheme, but when we tried to execute it we made a couple of mistakes that set us back,” Phillips said. “But it all turned out the way we wanted.”
The Tarleton defense picked off three passes, including a Blake Bueltel interception with 1:36 remaining in the fourth that drove the nails in the Javelinas’ coffin.
Tarleton was bit by the turnover bug as well, as freshman quarterback Scott Grantham threw a pair of interceptions that helped TAMK keep the game close.
Tarleton finished with less total offense than an opponent for only the second time this season. The Texans had 303 yards, while the Javs finished with 377.
Penalties contributed to the sloppiness. Tarleton was penalized 11 times for 100 yards, while TAMK was called for 13 penalties, costing the Javs 78 yards.
“Kingsville came out and got after us,” Tarleton Head Coach Sam McElroy said. “It wasn’t anything we didn’t do, but what they did to disrupt us.”
Despite his team’s sloppy play, McElroy couldn’t help but be pleased to finally win one in Kingsville.
“It’s always good to win, especially at a place like this,” he said.
Before Smith’s third-quarter touchdown finished the scoring, the Javelinas dominated the latter stages of the first half.
Trailing 24-7, TAMK ripped off two straight touchdowns to pull to within three at the half. Adrian Brooks ran for the first from five yards out. After a Grantham pass was picked off by Arlen Childress and returned 28 yards, it took the Javs only one play to score. David Garza found Rony Perard on a 23-yard pass in the end zone.
Early on, Tarleton broke a 7-7 tie with a one-yard touchdown run by Sampson, and extended their lead to 17-7 on a 23-yard field goal by Garrett Lindholm. Grantham then found Devin Guinn on a 34-yard scoring strike at the 3:44 mark of the second before TAMK began its comeback.
Grantham began the scoring with a one-yard run on a bootleg to make it 7-0 Texans. The Javs tied it up in the middle of the first with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Garza to Dante Higgins.
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at email@example.com.