CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo ENMU cornerback Tavius Bigelow and outside linebacker Devin Sweet tackle Tarleton State wide receiver Devon Gray during the second quarter.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — Having outscored their opponents by a 77-8 clip coming into Saturday, Tarleton State has earned a reputation as a third-quarter team.
Against a depleted Eastern New Mexico squad, the Texans proved to be a pretty good fourth-quarter team as well.
The 13th-ranked Texans scored 23 unanswered points to open the second half, including a 16-0 third-quarter advantage, and forced six ENMU turnovers for a 30-20 comeback victory in Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division game at Greyhound Stadium.
Tarleton (7-1, 2-1 LSC South), which erased a 21-3 deficit a week ago to edge Midwestern State 31-28, rallied from 13-0 in the second half after the upstart Greyhounds (2-6, 0-4) took the lead behind freshman quarterback Wes Wood.
Starting in the place of J.J. Harp, out due to a team suspension, Wood completed first-half touchdown passes to sophomore Dominic Preston for 24 yards and Clovis native Stefan Mills for 21 yards for the Hounds, who were without Harp, No. 1 receiver Jesse Poku (injury), No. 2 receiver Darian Dale (suspension) and No. 1 running back Troy Harris (injury).
“You’ve got to give credit to Eastern,” Tarleton State coach Sam McElroy said. “They were shorthanded and they played their guts out.”
But the turnovers were too much to overcome. While Texans quarterback Scott Grantham was getting into rhythm, the Tarleton defense took the young Greyhounds out of theirs, pressuring Wood into a lost fumble and three interceptions in the second half.
Following Wood’s first interception, Grantham hit Jahmeel Hobson for a 61-yard touchdown pass on the next play down the right sideline. He orchestrated two more third-quarter scoring drives, and finished off a drive to start the fourth with a leaping effort into the end zone from 5 yards out.
The turnovers, and Grantham’s steady play, helped the Texans carry a 15-minute advantage on time of possession, and it paid off late. The Hounds rallied to within 23-20 on Wood’s 40-yard pass to freshman Chase Kyser, but the Texans responded with an eight-play, 71-yard drive against an exhausted ENMU defense — which Ribaudo said turned in a top-10 performance in the school’s history despite giving up 30 points and 502 yards.
The final drive ended with a 12-yard pass from Grantham to Evan Robertson with 2:07 to play.
“Turnovers hurt us,” Ribaudo said. “Every once in a while you’ve got to keep them out of there and let them get a breather.
“If (fans) see a better effort defensively (somewhere else), then God bless them.”
McElroy was pleased to get the victory, especially on a day when No. 1-ranked Abilene Christian suffered an upset loss to LSC South foe West Texas A&M.
“This league, every week you’ve got to play,” McElroy said. “It’s a hard league and you can get beat easily.”