Duncan-led Tarleton hangs tough with top-ranked Sam Houston before falling at Memorial
STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton welcomed the No. 1 team in the nation into Memorial Stadium on Saturday, and the Texans hung tough most of the way before falling to Sam Houston 45-27.
The Texans (4-4, 1-2 WAC) started and finished well, but it was the defending champion Bearkats (7-0, 3-0 WAC) who took control in the middle two quarters to extend the longest winning streak in NCAA Division I football to 18 games.
Tarleton quarterback Steven Duncan threw for 403 yards and four touchdowns on the night to lead the Texans' upset attempt. Sam Houston's top-10 rushing defense lived up its name in allowing just 61 Tarleton yards on the ground. The Bearkats' QB Eric Schmid accounted for six touchdowns, five passing and one rushing, adding 301 yards through the air.
The Bearkats struck first at Memorial with an efficient 69-yard drive, capped off by an Ife Adeyi 2-yard TD reception from Schmid less than four minutes into the game. Tarleton responded with a 77-yard, six-play drive all through the air. Tariq Bitson caught his first of two touchdowns to tie the game at 7-7 with a 21-yard score.
The Tarleton defense rebounded from the first drive by standing up the Bearkats at midfield, forcing a fumble on Sam Houston's fourth down attempt that ended up being a turnover on downs. The Bearkats returned the favor with a four-and-out to get the ball back.
Adeyi scored his second touchdown in three drives for Sam Houston with an 18-yard catch and score. After little action for Tarleton on the next drive, the defense got it right back for Duncan and the crew, with Benjie Franklin picking off Schmid on the Bearkats' first play. The Texans capitalized to tie the game once again, this time Duncan to Derrel Kelley III for a 1-yard TD. The first quarter ended knotted at 14.
The middle quarters belonged to Sam Houston, beginning right off the bat in the second on a Schmid 9-yard rushing TD. Noah Smith caught a 19-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to put Sam Houston ahead 28-14. The Bearkats won the third quarter 17-0, with two touchdowns of Chandler Harvin for 26 yards from Schmid and Adeyi for his third touchdown from Schmid for 13 yards.
The Texans got things started in the fourth quarter with a 23-yard J.F. Thomas touchdown catch to bring the score to 45-21. Tarleton scored again on its next drive, this time Duncan to Bitson for the second time on the night from 34 yards out. A failed two-point conversion made it 45-27 Bearkats, which ended up being the final score.
Duncan's 403 yards on 25-of-43 passing marked a new career-high, surpassing his 347 yards at Dixie State last season on March 13. It's the first 400-yard game by a Tarleton QB since Ben Holmes had 451 yards through the air against Western New Mexico on Nov. 16, 2019. Duncan's 4-TD night was his second on the year and his third as a Texan.
Bitson had seven catches for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns, bringing his total to six on the season. It was his third 100-plus yard game this year, his fifth at Tarleton. In his short time at Tarleton, he already has the tied-11th most 100+ receiving yard games by a Texan all-time.
Antwoine Ware had his best game in the purple and white with five catches for 86 yards.
Defensively, Markel Clark recorded a sack as part of his six tackles. Franklin had his INT with five tackles. Zach Strong led the group in tackles at eight.
The Texans will conclude their three-game homestand on Saturday against another WAC opponent, Lamar, at 6 p.m. CT.