Tarleton State rolled over Arkansas-Monticello 45-16 at Memorial Stadium Thursday night thanks to four rushing touchdowns by Roderick Smith, a pair of Scott Grantham-to-Lester Hundley scoring passes and a stout defensive performance.
The Texans led 42-7 by the middle of the third quarter, dominating an opponent that went 7-4 last season and was just nine points away from going 9-2 as members of the mighty Gulf South Conference.
The Rocket Man
Smith, who is nicknamed “Rocket” and was named the 2009 Lone Star Conference South Division Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, scored touchdowns on four of his 11 first-half carries. He had 80 yards in the first two quarters, most of them coming on touchdown runs covering 32, 13, 10 and 2 yards.
The four scores matched a single-game Tarleton record. Smith now has 32 career touchdowns, one shy of the school’s career mark held by Gaylon Bowser (1984-87). The senior is now 901 yards away from surpassing four-time NAIA All-American Ricky Bush (1979-82) as the Texans’ all-time rushing leader.
Grantham appears to have found a replacement for Eric Foreman in Hundley, a 6-1, 192-pound junior. Hundley got behind everyone in the Monticello secondary on a play action pass and hauled in a 47-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. He put an exclamation point on the blowout later in the third with an impressive five-yard catch against tight coverage in the back corner of the end zone.
Grantham-to-Devin Guinn was an especially effective connection as the two hooked up five times for 104 yards. Guinn now needs 920 yards to set the school record for career receiving yardage, which is currently held by Harlan Wunsch (1967-69) with 2,582.
Monticello quarterback Scott Buisson, the reigning GSC Offensive Player of the Year who received considerable preseason Harlon Hill hype, was a shadow of himself against a Tarleton defense that showed dominant speed and athleticism. Buisson, who averaged more than 118 yards per game on the ground last season, was sacked three times and netted only six yards rushing. He also passed for 69 yards below his average in 2008.
The Texan defense was at its best on the goal line, where it made two big stands. Monticello had first-and-goal at the one in the second quarter when the game was still within reach, but failed to score when the offense lost yards on two of the next three plays and a deep snap sailed over the holder’s head on a field goal attempt.
The Boll Weevils’ next trip inside the 10 came when the game was already out of hand and netted only a field goal.
Just for kicks
Tarleton dominated the kicking game by tipping one Monticello punt and averaging 23 yards per kickoff return including a 44-yard sprint by Evan Robertson. Guinn chipped in with 27 yards on a pair of punt returns, giving him a total of 131 all-purpose yards on seven touches. Each team hit a field goal - Tarleton’s was an impressive 44-yarder by Garrett Lindholm - but Monticello had a bad snap on another three-point attempt.
Strong at the start
Tarleton has figured out how to win early in the season, going 8-2 in home openers this decade. The Texans have now won their last three season and home openers.
LSC vs. GSC
There were four games on the week one slate pitting LSC teams against members of the GSC. LSC members won two of the three on Thursday night. Tarleton won, Southeastern Oklahoma State knocked off Henderson State in a 54-38 shootout and Northeastern State fell to Arkansas Tech 44-32.
Texas A&M-Kingsville hosted No. 3 Delta State last night.
Tarleton makes the long bus trip to Tahlequah, Okla. to face Northeastern State, which is just 9-36 in LSC games over the last five years. The Texans haven’t lost to the Riverhawks since 2002 and defeated NSU 38-10 in Stephenville last year.
Due to the odd number of teams in the LSC, Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 7 p.m., will count as a league crossover game for Northeastern but will be a non-conference game for Tarleton.