Small College Recap: Tarleton State prevails in battle of unbeatens

Courtesy Tarleton athletics

STEPHENVILLE - - It was billed as the biggest challenge each team had faced to this point in the 2019 season when No. 4 Tarleton hosted No. 23 Angelo State at Lonn Reisman Athletic Center at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

Each team entered with an outstanding defense and each team’s defense shined throughout the game before the Texans took control with 10 points in the third quarter to win 30-13 over the Rams.

“I think we really needed a game like this where we had to go out and battle. We haven’t had to do that so much this year,” said Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten. “The way we won today and the way we closed it out at the end is the way teams that compete for championships (play).”

“The frustrating part of this game is that we had our opportunities to win this game and ultimately we didn’t,” said Angelo State head coach Jeff Girsch. “We worked hard, and we played hard, but we just didn’t execute at the highest level.”

The win is the 11th straight home victory for Tarleton, which is tied for the longest home winning streak in NCAA Division II and is the 15th straight regular-season victory for the Texans.

Key Turnovers and Touchdowns

Angelo State had the ball at the Tarleton eight-yard line following an interception only trailing 13-6 early in the third quarter. After two incomplete passes, Tarleton forced ASU quarterback Payne Sullins to throw the ball under pressure towards the end zone where linebacker Ronnell Wilson made the interception at the four-yard line to end the threat.

“That was huge. We had several big moments throughout the game that made me think that we’re on the right track,” said Whitten. “Ronnell stepped up and made a great play.”

“That was kind of the theme of the night, every time we got ourselves in position to score, we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Girsch. “We have to capitalize in those situations, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Tarleton offense entered leading the nation with 583.5 total yards per game and the Texans had rolled up over 600 yards in three of their first four games. The Texans were held to 423 total yards with most of those yards gained late in the third quarter and during the fourth quarter.

Girsch was proud of the way his defense performed against the best offense in the country.

“They kept us in the game,” said Girsch. “I’m very proud of the way they played tonight. They played fast and confident all night.”

Tarleton’s biggest drive came late in the third quarter. The Texans added to their 10-point lead with a seven-play 62-yard drive that ended when quarterback Ben Holmes found Zimari Manning for a 22-yard score on fourth down. Manning bulled his way through a couple of Rams defenders for the touchdown.

“You can’t give up and you can’t get discouraged,” said Zimari Manning. “You just have to keep going every drive and every play.”

“Zimari made that touchdown in the weight room in the summer,” added Whitten.

Alone at the Top

The Texans have taken control atop the Lone Star Conference standings with this win as they improved to 3-0 in the LSC. Texas A&M-Commerce is the only other undefeated team in the LSC with a 2-0 conference record.

Tarleton State will meet Texas A&M-Commerce in its next home game on Oct. 19.

Elephant in the Room

Tarleton announced last Monday they had accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference.

The excitement around the university and the football program has been palpable since the announcement was confirmed. The news was obviously a topic of conversation in the post-game press conference.

“I think it’s really good for our university and I think we’re all very excited to be able to move forward and move up,” said Whitten. “Our football program is in a good spot right now and I think going Division I is the perfect thing for us.”

While Whitten and the athletic department understands there will be challenges ahead, the Texans have the utmost confidence.

“I can tell you that as an athletic department and as a university that we’re ready for the challenge,” said Whitten.

All About New Mexico

Tarleton will head to Portales, N.M. next week to play Eastern New Mexico at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.

Angelo State will return home to meet Western New Mexico on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

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