Texans fall in Division I opener to McNeese State in double overtime
STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton football's first Division I game had the all the excitement the fans have been waiting on for the last year. Just not the outcome.
The Texans fell to McNeese State in heartbreaking fashion, 40-37 in double overtime on Cowboy quarterback Cody Orgeron's walkoff 19-yard touchdown run.
"It was a hard-fought game by both teams," said head coach Todd Whitten. "There's probably some good and some bad things tonight. We thought we had the game in hand and then made some real critical mistakes, but you have to give credit to McNeese State, they battled and I thought their quarterback made some really good plays for them down the stretch. More than anything, we have to be able to learn from this. There's not much room for error and to be in a tight ballgame down the stretch and have penalties like we did, it's hard to overcome those."
In the first NCAA spring football game in over a century with temperatures in the 20s at Memorial Stadium, the Texan offense was on fire through three quarters of play. Tarleton posted 408 yards of offense in its FCS debut.
After trailing 10-0 in the first nine minutes of the game, all-America defensive back Devin Hafford made a game-turning defensive stop on fourth down on the Texan 10-yard line to force a turnover on downs. The stop sparked the Texan offense, who in turn heated up as kicker Adrian Guzman kicked a 38-yard field goal for the first points as a Division I program. It was the first of three field goals for the true freshman from Temple. On Tarleton's next possession, the Texans marched down field to set up Ryheem Skinner, who scored the first touchdown of the Division I era on a four-yard run that tied the score at 10 with just 1:05 left in the first half. Skinner had 50 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
The two teams went into halftime tied at 10-10, with the Texans posting 184 yards of offense in the frame.
On Tarleton's first drive on the third quarter, quarterback Steven Duncan connected with Tariq Bitson in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass that gave the Texans its first lead of the game, 17-10. Bitson finished with five receptions for 87 yards while Duncan was 22-39 for 217 yards and the lone score.
In the second half, the offense relied on true freshman Braelon Bridges, a running back from Houston. Bridges broke free on a 27-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to give Tarleton a two-score lead at 24-10, which marked 24 unanswered points for the Texan offense. After Orgeron ran in his first of two touchdowns on the ensuing possession to cut it to a one-score game, Bridges added another touchdown to extend the lead on a 1-yard run. In his first career collegiate game, Bridges ran for 112 yards on just 15 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
The Texans had a 31-17 lead with three minutes left in the game when McNeese scored on a touchdown pass to cut it to a one-score difference. The Cowboys then recovered the onside kick and found the end zone once again with 35 seconds on the clock that forced the game to overtime.
In the first overtime, both teams kicked field goals to even the score at 34. After Guzman drilled his third field goal of the game in the second overtime, a 45-yard attempt, the Cowboys turned to Orgeron who scored on a 19-yard run, finishing the game with 108 yards on the ground and the game winner.
The Tarleton defense was led by ChadWick Thibodeaux, who had a game-high 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Zech Hopkins also posted double figures in tackles with 10.
Tarleton is scheduled to play its first game against an FBS opponent next weekend when the Texans take on WAC rival New Mexico State.