By Travis M. Smith–
WICHITA FALLS– Tarleton (5-5) wrapped up its season on a high note Saturday afternoon, defeating the Mustangs of Midwestern State University (6-4) in thrilling fashion 44-41. The Texans entered the contest 0-4 in game winning drive scenarios, but they would not be shut out of that category again. In the inaugural year of the Lone Star Conference football playoffs, Tarleton’s victory gave them a third place finish.
Quarterback Zed Woerner and company took over possession on their own 27-yard line and trailed by 4 points with 1:20 second remaining in the contest. Woerner completed 4 straight passes to get the Texans to the MSU 3-yard line. Zach Henshaw scored two plays later, and after the Blake Barnes point-after kick, the Texans led 44-41 with 22 seconds left.
Midwestern failed to make any noise with its final possession and Tarleton completed its first late game comeback of the year. The two teams were almost identical in almost every category except for two key areas. The Mustangs coughed the ball up 3 times, twice in the fourth quarter. Tarleton recovered all three fumbles and scored 20 points off of those turnovers. MSU also had 13 penalties for 98 yards, with 5 of those giving Tarleton State a first down.
Woerner had his second consecutive 300-yard passing game in just his second career start. Bubba Tandy caught 172 of Woerner’s 316 yards, setting a new career high for the red-shirt sophomore. Zach Henshaw and Jabari Anderson had two rushing touchdowns each while adding 81 and 70 rushing yards respectively.
The Texan defense was lead in tackles by Robert Atkinson and Alex Anderson, each of whom carded nine tackles. Marc Martinez and Damien Ward were disruptive as usual. Both players recorded a sack, 2 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.
Tarleton was picked to finish first in the LSC prior to the season, receiving eight first-place votes. Four tough late games losses and a surprising Texas A&M – Commerce team left the Texans with a 5 win-5 loss finish, viewed by many as a disappointing campaign. However, there were more than enough bright spots and plenty to build upon for next season.
Depth on the offensive side of the ball will be a solid building block for Head Coach Cary Fowler, as only two offensive players graduate. The Texans will return two, 1,000-yard passing quarterbacks in Collin Strahan (1,659 yards) and Woerner (1,167 yards). Strahan started the first 7 games for the Texans before suffering a shoulder injury and set the single game rushing yard mark for a quarterback (156 yards) as well as the high-water mark for total yards in a game (542 yards).
Woerner held his own under-center as well. After taking over for Strahan in the first quarter of the first meeting with Angelo State, Woerner completed 101 of 149 passes for six touchdowns and a 142.2 QBR. If Woerner had attempted one more pass, his 67.8% completion rate would have set a new all-time Tarleton high. Quarterbacks are required to attempt 150 passes to be considered for official school records. Woerner set two school records of his own when he completed 41 passes for 470 yards. The Texans also set the new school record for yards in a game last week against Commerce when they accounted for 666 yards.
The Texans backfield will return every player who recorded a carry this season. Zach Henshaw led all backs with 673 yards rushing while adding seven scores. Jabari Anderson was the surprise out of the backfield this season. The redshirt-freshman ran for 426 yards in six games this season for nine touchdowns on 56 carries. Collin Strahan proved to be a dual-threat from the quarterback position running for 599 yards and a team-high 10 scores.
Whoever is named the starting quarterback next season will have plenty of experienced wide-outs to choose from in the high-powered Texan offense. Clifton Rhodes III is the only receiver set to graduate after a historical collegiate campaign left him atop the Tarleton records books in career receptions (209) and career receiving yards (2,757 yards). Redshirt-Sophomore Bubba Tandy will return as the team’s leading receiver. Tandy’s 830 receiving yards is tenth best all-time in school history, and his 83.0 yards per game is seventh best. He is the first player to crack the top 10 in yards per game since 2009.
Tyler Wright and his 432 receiving yards will also return after finding his place as the Texans go-to slot receiver. The ever-explosive Nardy Myers will bring back his team leading eight touchdown receptions and 755 yards. As a team, the Texans will bring back 2,452 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
When it was all said and done, the Texans set 16 new school records and had eight others well in sight. The Texans lost four games by seven points or less in a season that could have very well of ended in a 9-1 record. The talent is there, and with only 17 seniors graduating, the talent is returning too.
The Texans still have a slim chance to be invited to a bowl game, however, those chances are slim and all signs point to prepping for 2015.
Congratulations to the following graduating seniors:
DeAntrey Loche – DB
Charles Moore – DB
Clifton Rhodes III – WR
Sean Murray – DB
Ivan Cangas – K/P
Isaac Arellano – P
Marc Martinez – LB
Devin Figures – DB
Jonathan Blair – LB
Andre Allen – DE
Alex Anderson – LB
Juan Gonzalez – DT
Lucas Love – OL
Ethan Perkins – DT
Anthony Gonzales – DE
Brandon Johnson – DE
Patrick Bettiol – DE