Special teams spark ACU comeback over Tarleton

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
Tarleton QB Aaron Doyle

ARLINGTON - It was a tale of two halves, but No. 20 Abilene Christian dominated the second more than Tarleton State did the first in the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium Saturday.

The No. 20 Wildcats (2-1) scored 24 second-half points to come from behind and beat rival Tarleton (1-1) 34-31 in a Lone Star Conference game.

ACU didn't have to go far to overcome a 20-10 halftime deficit, scoring touchdowns on drives of just 36 and 25 yards in the third quarter to take a 24-20 lead. Travis Tarver II finished the first with a seven-yard scoring run and Mitchell Gale hit Taylor Gabriel with a four-yard TD strike to cap off the second.

Special teams plays set up both scores as Darian Hogg tipped a Tarleton punt to pave the way for the first and Gabriel returned the next Texan punt 54 yards to the 25.

"The kicking game won it for us last week but lost it for us this week," said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "You can't give a quarterback like (Gale) a short field."

Morgan Lineberry's field goals of 27 yards late in the second and 30 yards early in the fourth capped off the string of 20 straight ACU points.

Stephenville product Blake Barnes cut Tarleton's deficit to 27-23 with his third field goal from 30 yards out with 9:35 still to play, but the Wildcats wold strike back with their longest drive of the game.

ACU drove 79 yards on 14 plays, eating up more than six minutes before scoring on a 16-yard pass from Gale to abriel. The senior receiver broke a series of tackles before hurling himself into the end zone for a two-possession lead in the final four minutes.

Tarleton worked quickly to drive 85 yards in just 2:10 and scored on a one-yard keeper by quarterback Aaron Doyle, who used a jump pass to tight end Will McLane to add the two-point conversion and finish the scoring.

ACU's Thor Woerner covered Tarleton's onside kick attempt to seal the deal.

It was the Tarleton offense that couldn't be stopped in the first half, when the Texans rolled up 321 yards and scored on touchdown drives of 82 and 53 yards and on field goal drives of 68 and 53 yards.

Doyle passed for 16 yards to Jerome Regal and 10 yards to Vaughn Smith for the TDs and Barnes was true on field goals of 28 and 41 yards.

The Wildcats opened the scoring when Charcandrick West ran to pay dirt from a yard out just more than six minutes into the game.

Tarleton rolled up 556 yards to ACU's 334, with Doyle going 39-52 through the air for 377 yards, two TDs and an interception. The pick came on a pass that bounced off a receiver's chest at the ACU eight in the closing seconds of the first half.

Regal rushed for 103 yards on 13 trips and added 62 yards on five receptions for the Texans, while Jeken Frye had 10 catches for 92 yards and Clifton Rhodes III added nine for 106.

"We have a lot of weapons offensively - in the receiving core and in the backfield. I feel real confident about where we're at and where we're going," said Fowler. "Offensively, there are three seniors in there most the time. That's what's exciting for us is the future, but at the same time, the future is next week.

"Anytime you go out and get 556 yards and give up 334 you should win the fotball game," Fowler added. "You have to go back and look at the hidden numbers. The kicking game got us."

Gale was 27-42 for 279 yards and the two scores to Gabriel. Darian Hogg had eight catches for 67 yards.

Tarleton, which hosts Eastern New Mexico at 7 p.m. next Saturday, limited ACU to just 55 rushing yards while the Texans ran for 179 yards. Tarleton had four sacks, including three by defensive end Rufus Johnson.

"We were able to get it done in the face of adversity and that's what it's all about," said ACU head coach Ken Collums. "That game could have gone either way; that's the way it is in the Lone Star (Conference)."

It was Tarleton's first appearance in the Lone Star Football Festival, which began at Cowboys Stadium last year.

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports