Evan Robertson and Jerome Regal rushed for two touchdowns each and Tarleton State (3-7, 2-4 South) dominated the second half to earn to 41-20 victory over Incarnate Word (2-8, 0-6) in Lone Star Conference South Division play at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
"This win means everything to us right now," said first-year Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "I'm not worried about us having seven losses, I'm worried about where we are right now and the direction we're headed in the immediate future. We have a chance to finish the year with back-to-back wins. That's what I'm focused on right now, and that's exactly how we need to finish next week."
The Texans took the lead for good when a 17-yard strike from Nick Stephens to Jamal Mays made it 20-17 six minutes into the second half.
Regal, a true freshman who rushed nine times for 47 yards, scored both his touchdowns in the second half, making it 27-17 on a 19-yard burst and 41-20 on an 18-yard sprint. Robertson, a junior who led all rushers with 110 yards on 17 carries, scored in between Regal's TD's on an 8-yard run.
"Evan has been playing all year with an injured hip, but he's tougher than nails," Fowler said. "He never misses practice, never complains and just keeps running as hard as he can."
Robertson's TD was set up by UIW punter Aaron Willis, who from his own end zone hit one straight up into a stiff breeze. The ball hit near the 20 and took a Tarleton bounce before being downed at the eight, and the Texans put the game out of reach two plays later.
UIW scored a meaningless TD with two seconds left on the clock to provide the final tally. It was Trent Rios who dove in for the one-yard TD. Rios, who was playing with a sprained ankle, rushed for 85 yards on 18 attempts.
"I think Incarnate Word has a good football team. It's a team that took (No. 19) Midwestern (State) to overtime on the road," Fowler said. "Everyone knows they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future, but I'm telling you they are a force to be reckoned with now and we're fortunate to get a win over them."
The Texans rushed for 183 yards and Stephens was 15-21 passing for 174 yards with completions going to eight different receivers. His favorite target was Devon Gray with four catches for 66 yards.
"We had some wrong routes at times, and Nick made a bad read when he threw his only interception," Fowler said. "But for the most part Nick was efficient and in control and ran our offense smoothly."
Tarleton had 357 yards of total offense to UIW's 317.
Paden Lynch was 16-32 for 175 yards for the Cardinals. Hamilton was his leading receiver with seven grabs for 77 yards.
Special teams turned the first half around and allowed UIW to take a lead into the break.
The Cardinals faked two field goals on the same drive, executing both successfully. The first fake came from the Tarleton 16 when kicker Thomas Rebold took a pitch from the holder and went around the right side for a seven-yard gain on fourth-and-two. The second came four plays later from the five when holder Dominic Hamilton sprinted untouched around the left side to tie the game.
Tarleton's Brandon Lowery slipped and fell to the turf on the ensuing kickoff, and Incarnate Word's Brenan Furtado recovered the live ball at the Texans' 23-yard line with 3:25 remaining.
The Cardinals moved the ball just six yards but took their time doing it before Rebold hit a 24-yard field goal to give UIW its only lead with 47 seconds left in the half.
Tarleton had grabbed a 14-7 lead early in the second when Stephens plunged across the goal line on a 1-yard keeper. That capped a short drive that started at the 50 because of a kick catch interference penalty on the UIW punt team.
It was 7-0 Tarleton less than three minutes into the game, as the Texan offense took the opening drive 64 yards on just six plays. Robertson completed the drive with a 14-yard sprint to paydirt.
Tarleton looked ready to jump out to a two-score lead in the early going when UIW's Tyler Fields fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Regal scooped it up for the Texans at the Cardinals' 29-yard line.
The Texan offense couldn't take advantage, however, advancing to the UIW five before Stephens fired an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal.
The Cardinals offense capitalized on the momentum-changing stop, using an impressive 11-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Paden Lynch dive to produce the first of two ties.
Both teams close out their seasons this week. Tarleton hosts Eastern New Mexico at noon and UIW entertains Texas A&M-Commerce at 2 p.m., both on Saturday.