No. 15 Tarleton State (5-0) hosts Southwestern Oklahoma State (3-2) Saturday in the final LSC crossover contest before South Division play begins for the Texans next week.
Tarleton and Southwestern have met on the gridiron 21 times, with the Texans leading the series, 11-10. Tarleton has dominated the Bulldogs since the schools began playing every year in 1999, winning seven of the last eight. The Texans have won three consecutive meetings leading to Saturday, with the last Southwestern win coming in Weatherford, Okla. in 2003 by the score of 21-17.
The Texans slipped past SWOSU last fall, 21-19. Tarleton overcame a 10-0 first-quarter deficit with 21 consecutive points. After a field goal cut Tarleton's lead to eight at 21-13, Southwestern found the endzone with 4:33 remaining in the fourth. The Bulldogs tried to run for a game-tying two-point conversion, but was denied by the Tarleton defense. A late interception by middle linebacker Vernon Smith preserved the Texan win.
That was the first victory in 2006 after a 0-3 start by Tarleton. The Texans have done a comeplete 180-degree shift this year, beginning the season with four straight wins. A win Saturday would place the 2007 Texans alongside only two other Tarleton teams in the senior college era to begin a season 5-0 (see related story, same page).
Southwestern enters the contest on the heels of a 50-14 home loss last week to No. 17 Abilene Christian. Of the Bulldogs' three wins, only one was over a NCAA Division II opponent. That came on Aug. 31 when Southwestern rode its defense to a 7-3 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville. SWOSU's other wins are over Northwestern Oklahoma and Panhandle State. The other loss came to No. 13 Midwestern State, 47-10.
Southwestern averages 295.4 yards of offense per game, and is giving up 317.2. The Texans, meanwhile, have been balanced in moving the ball 443.2 yards per game. The defense, which has surrendered more than 20 points only once this season, is giving up only 272 yards per battle.
Like Tarleton, the Bulldogs have split up the running duties. Four backs have between 26 and 31 carries this season, but none are averaging over 40 yards per contest. Patrick Weaver is the leader with 31 carries for 193 yards.
In stark contrast, the Texans' platoon in the backfield has worked to near -brilliance. Tarleton had its lowest rushing output of 123 yards in a 21-17 win over Texas A&M-Commerce last week, but is still averaging 197 per game.
Roderick Smith leads the Tarleton ground attack with 52 carries for 365 yards. During Smith's only ineffective outing last week, Travis Evans picked up the slack with 66 yards on 12 attempts. Tarleton should benefit more each week withMichael Sampson back in the line-up. Sampson, the LSC South Offensive Back of the Year in 2006, missed the first two contests this season with a nagging hamstring injury. He returned against Southeastern Oklahoma State, carrying the ball 10 times for 64 yards. Sampson scored his first touchdown of the year against TAMC last week.
Steven Day and Jimmy Sangster have split time under center for the Bulldogs. Both hover around the 50-percent mark in completion percentage, and both have thrown for just over 400 yards.
Redshirt frehsman Scott Grantham is the undisputed quarterback for Tarleton. Grantham is 62.5-percent passing this fall, and has built a great repoire with sophomore receiver Devin Guinn. The Texans' leading receiver has 19 grabs for 384 yards, an average of more than 20 yards per catch. Grantham also has Shamarr Prentice on the outside. Prentice had 162 yards on eight receptions against Southeastern in his Tarleton debut, after nursing a pulled hamstring during weeks one and two. He wasn't a factor, however, against TAMC.
The battle serves as the climax of Family Weekend on the Tarleton campus. The Texans are 2-0 at home this fall, while Southwestern is 1-1 on the road. SWOSU has not won in Stephenville since 1993.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org