STEPHENVILLE - - Two Lone Star Conference rivals met at Lonn Reisman Athletic Center at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night with huge stakes on the line in a top-20 showdown.
The Texans extended their regular season winning streak to 17 games and remain tied for the longest home winning streak in NCAA Division II with 12 consecutive wins at home.
With the victory, Tarleton is the lone remaining undefeated team in the LSC and has the inside track to claiming its second consecutive outright conference championship.
“This football team just keeps finding a way to win,” said Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten. “No matter what happens to us, we keep moving forward and keep fighting and that’s what good teams do.”
“When we got down 14-0, I thought we did a great job of grinding and getting back in the game,” said Texas A&M-Commerce head coach David Bailiff. “We made too many mistakes to be a winner. Tell coach Whitten (it) was a very bold move making this homecoming, but Todd does a great job.”
Each time that Texas A&M-Commerce pulled within a touchdown, Tarleton responded with a huge scoring drive.
After the Lions scored their first touchdown in the second quarter, Texans quarterback Ben Holmes led his team on a 7-play 80-yard drive culminating in a 19-yard touchdown pass to Zimari Manning.
“We knew that this was a championship game and we knew how tough Commerce was and we stayed locked in from the first snap of the ball to the last snap,” said Holmes.
Texas A&M-Commerce pulled within seven points once again in the third quarter but Holmes again led the Texans down the field on a 14-play 75-yard drive ending in a 2-yard scoring pass to Manning.
“That’s the way we have been playing ball. When our backs are against the wall and we need to answer with a score, we’ve been able to do that,” said Whitten. “To make a run in the playoffs and win championships we have to continue to do that.”
After Tarleton opened the scoring with a touchdown on their first drive, Lions quarterback Miklo Smalls threw a pass that was dropped by the receiver. The pass was adjudicated as a backward pass and Tre Johnson returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown to push the Texans early lead to 14 points.
“I would like to say that I’m a huge advocate for bringing instant replay into Division II,” said Bailiff. “They have it in women’s basketball, men’s basketball and volleyball but we don’t have it in football. I think that’s something this conference should advocate for.”
“That was a huge play for us,” said Whitten. “It was a backward pass and we were alert over there and able to scoop it up and score and that certainly made a big difference in the game.”
Another turnover would prove costly to the Lions in the third quarter as redshirt freshman Kaylon Horton intercepted a Smalls pass at the Tarleton one-yard line. The Texans then drove 92 yards in eight plays with Holmes once again finding Manning with a 39-yards touchdown pass.
“The last drive I didn’t make the tackle on the touchdown, so I had to get my team the ball so that’s what I was thinking the whole drive,” said Horton.
“I’m really really proud of Kaylon,” said Whitten. “He had an injury and had to miss some time, but he has worked hard to bounce back from that and it’s really good to have some of these young guys step up for us.”
“Those are costly mistakes,” lamented Bailiff. “We told our guys that whoever wins the turnover battle was going to be critical in this game.”
Tarleton will travel to Kingsville, Texas next Saturday night for a conference game against the Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas.
Texas A&M-Commerce returns home and will look to rebound as they host the Western New Mexico Mustangs on Saturday afternoon.
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