Monthly archive

February 2021

MAKING A STATEMENT

in College Football

Serving notice to the FCS nation, Tarleton State tramples FBS New Mexico State, 43-17, in El Paso’s Sun Bowl to earn national ranking

EL PASO – To call it shocking would be an understatement in the world of NCAA Division I football. Not only do the Tarleton State Texans earn their first-ever win as an FCS program Sunday afternoon at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, they did so by thrashing an FBS squad.

Stampeding to 23 first quarter points, the Texans built a commanding first half advantage before coasting to a convincing 43-17 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies. And in the process, poll voters took notice by placing Tarleton State at No. 22 in the FCS Top 25.

Playing without five offensive starters ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols, Tarleton State senior quarterback Cameron Burston came off the bench to pass for two touchdowns and run for two more.

“This is huge,” Tarleton State head coach Todd Whitten said. “Everybody in the country is facing a lot of adversity, and we’re no different. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team and the way they fought this afternoon. Our guys stepped up and bought into ‘next man up’, especially our quarterback Cam.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Cam,” he added. “Going from the backup role to getting out there and playing really well. We gave him the game ball. I’m as proud of Cam as any quarterback I’ve ever coached.”

Named the starter just hours before kickoff, Burston proved to be electric by scoring on the Texans’ first two offensive plays of the game. Burston turned a keeper into a 70-yard scoring run on the first play from scrimmage. Then after the Texan defense held New Mexico State, Burston quickly connected with junior wide receiver Gabe Douglas for an 86-yard touchdown strike.

In his first career start, Burston completed 15 of 29 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for a team-high 79 yards and two scores. Douglas finished with a team-high seven catches for 190 yards and two scores.

After building an overwhelming 33-7 halftime lead, the Tarleton State defense provided some second half highlights on the first two Aggie possessions when Benjie Franklin and Donovan Banks picked off the Aggie signal caller on back-to-back drives before the Texans capitalized for scores.

Defensively, Tarleton dominated the Aggies, allowing only 54 yards on the ground and a paltry 241 total yards while producing three turnovers.

Looking to produce its first NCAA DI winning streak, Tarleton returns home to take on FCS Independent and WAC transitional member Dixie State Trailblazers at 2 p.m. Saturday in Stephenville.

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 14

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Winter weather wrecks havoc with NCAA Division III schedule, Tarleton State looks for first DI victory at New Mexico State after thrilling double overtime loss in opener

As if dealing with our COVID-19 pandemic world wasn’t enough, one of the most severe winter weather events on record paralyzed Texas and put a freeze on four NCAA Division III spring football games last week, forcing either a postponement or cancellation.

But weather did not prevent the much anticipated, first-ever NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) game played at Stephenville’s Memorial. Unfortunately for the Tarleton State Texans, the McNeese State Cowboys scored 14 unanswered points to close out regulation before subduing the Texans, 40-37, in double overtime last Saturday night.

With a full slate of FCS games on tap this week, Tarleton State (1-0) will hit the road in search of its first NCAA DI victory at New Mexico State Sunday at 4 p.m. In other games involving Texas schools, Sam Houston State opens the spring season at Incarnate Word, while Lamar hosts Northwestern State.

Throughout the spring, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

In week two of the unprecedented NCAA Division III spring football season, East Texas State and Trinity were able to extend strong starts with impressive wins last Saturday, while Hardin-Simmons’ matchup against West Texas rival Howard Payne, Texas Lutheran’s home game against McMurry and Austin College’s trip to Hendrix in Arkansas were all been postponed. Southwestern’s matchup against Louisiana College fell victim to a cancellation notice.

Without an opportunity to practice this week due to the extreme winter weather, all five games involving Texas teams scheduled for this week have been postponed.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

WEATHER FREEZES SPRING FOOTBALL

in College Football

As East Texas Baptist & Trinity remain undefeated, inclement weather forces postponement or cancellation of four NCAA DIII spring games

Just when it looked like college football had put 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror, 2021 dealt a blow of its own.

Only one week into the unprecedented NCAA Division III spring football season, the historic winter weather that put Texas in a frigid deep freeze forced the postponement or cancellation of four games on the six matchup slate for last Saturday. And more schedule changes could be coming this week.

While East Texas State and Trinity were able to extend strong starts with impressive wins last Saturday, Hardin-Simmons’ matchup against West Texas rival Howard Payne, Texas Lutheran’s home game against McMurry and Austin College’s trip to Hendrix in Arkansas were all been postponed. Southwestern’s matchup against Louisiana College fell victim to a cancellation notice.

With both the American Southwestern Conference and Southern Athletic Association planning to play a five-game spring schedule, the teams involved in the three postponed games will look at options to reschedule.

EAST TEXAS BAPTIST 44, BELHAVEN (Miss.) 16

Winning at home in Marshall’s Ornelas Stadium for the first time since Nov. 2019, the East Texas Baptist Tigers dominated the Belhaven (Miss.) Blazers, 44-16 in the American Southwest Conference matchup.

“Obviously, you can’t play for a championship unless you win each game, and we’ve won two in a row, so we’re excited about that,” ETBU head coach Brian Mayper said. “The guys are playing hard. Defensively, I can’t say enough about that. We played lights out.”

Capitalizing for three defensive touchdowns, ETBU junior defensive back KJ Kelley delivered pick sixes while leading the Tigers with 10 takedowns. Producing an impressive team defensive performance against Belhaven (0-2), junior linebacker Donovan Graham recovered a fumble for a score and freshman free safety Kenneth Bradley grabbed an interception, while senior linebacker Justice Henson contributed nine tackles, sophomore defensive lineman James Wright IV seven and junior defensive end Josh Reed notched a sack.

Offensively, ETBU (2-0) got the job done with 315 total yards, led by sophomore quarterback Aaron Brown, who rushed for one touchdown and connected with junior wide receiver Cris Williams for another, while sophomore running back Cornelius Merchant ran for a touchdown.

“Offensively, we kind of stopped ourselves on some plays, but then, we made plays,” Mayper said. “We just need to eliminate all the mistakes and focus in, because a lot of that stuff was self-imposed . But then again, we had some great plays running, throwing and catching the football.”

Following an open week in the schedule, ETBU will travel to Pineville, La., to take on Louisiana College on Feb. 27.

“Being 2-0 feels good after 15 months,” Mayper said. “We need to take it one game at a time, but we’re excited.”

TRINITY (Texas) 37, MILLSAPS (Miss.) 7

Making the most of a long road trip to Mississippi, the Trinity Tigers scored early and often on their way to an overwhelming 37-7 victory over Millsaps College in a Southern Athletic Association matchup last Saturday afternoon.

“Really proud of the guys on earning a big road win against a historically tough conference opponent,” Trinity head coach Jerheme Urban said. “This is a game that has a lot of meaning for a lot of our alumni, as evidenced by the amount of text messages I received this morning. And it is fun seeing our young men buy into that tradition as well. We had a long trip yesterday, and they showed some great mental toughness to come out and play the way they did today.”

Trinity (2-0) scored on its possession of the game on the way to building a commanding 24-0 advantage midway through the second quarter. In the meantime, the Tigers limited Millsaps (0-2) to only 213 yards of total offense, 79 of which came on the Majors only score of the game.

Putting on an offensive showcase with a balanced attack, Trinity piled up 504 total yards by passing for 258 while grinding out 246 on the ground. Quarterback Tucker Horn completed eight of 15 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with Ryan Merrifield for two scores. Michael Edmonson led the ground game with 99 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.

Defensively, Michael Jewett led the team effort with seven tackles and two sacks, while Ryan Arnold recorded his first career interception.

 “I felt like we once again fed off of the energy of our defensive box, which continues to play really good run defense,” Urban said. “And we saw some guys on offense start showing the explosive potential that we have. We also had some guys who really stepped up today with some injuries and played great football as well.”

Trinity returns to San Antonio to host Hendrix (AR) College (1-0) next Saturday at noon. The Warriors won their season opener at Millsap, 37-27, Feb. 6 before seeing their home opener against Austin College postponed due to snow.

“We’ll get home tonight and heal up for a really good Hendrix team next weekend,” Urban said. “They have a really talented QB, and I’m fully expecting them to let him try to throw it all over the yard next Saturday. We’re going to need a really good week of film study to go with whatever minimal work that the weather allows us to get on the field.”

Photos courtesy of EAST TEXAS BAPTIST, HENDRIX COLLEGE ATHLETICS & TRINITY FOOTBALL

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

in College Football

Tarleton State plays its first NCAA DI game to kick off the unprecedented FCS spring football season Saturday, falling to McNeese State, 40-37, in double overtime thriller in Stephenville

STEPHENVILLE – After much anticipation, the first-ever NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) game played at Memorial Stadium proved to be well worth the wait. But unfortunately for the Tarleton State Texans, the pomp and celebration did not deliver the desired outcome.

With a host of dignitaries, honored guests and 1,324 fans in attendance to open the unprecedented FCS spring football season, the McNeese State Cowboys scored 14 unanswered points to close out regulation before subduing the Texans, 40-37, in double overtime Saturday night.

After freshman placekicker Adrian Guzman nailed a 45-yard field goal to open the second overtime period, McNeese State quarterback Cody Orgeron scored on a walkoff 19-yard touchdown run to hand Tarleton State the heartbreaking loss.

“It was a hard-fought game by both teams,” Tarleton State head coach Todd Whitten said. “There’s probably some good and some bad things tonight. We thought we had the game in hand, and then made some real critical mistakes. But you have to give credit to McNeese State. They battled, and I thought their quarterback made some really good plays for them down the stretch.”

Trailing 10-0 late in the first quarter, the Texans shook off the jitters to pile up 408 yards of total offense in their FCS debut to take control of the game heading into the fourth quarter.

Scoring 14 unanswered points in the third quarter, the Texans grabbed their first lead of the game when redshirt junior quarterback Steven Duncan found senior wide receiver Tariq Bitson in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard scoring strike. Late in the period, Tarleton State’s true freshman Braelon Bridges broke free on a 27-yard touchdown run to give the Texans a two-score advantage, 24-10, heading into the final frame.

Despite enjoying a 31-17 lead with only three minutes left in the game, Tarleton State could not seal the deal. McNeese State began the rally when Orgeron connected with Mason Pierce for a 26-yard touchdown pass before the Cowboys recovered the onside kickoff. With just 35 seconds left in regulation, Orgeron found Trevor Begue open for a 12-yard strike to tie the game.

“We had some spurts where we played really well, and we had a nice lead,” Whitten said. “We had them in third and long and made an unfortunate mistake roughing their passer. They went down and scored on that drive, and then recovered the onside kick. They really out-executed us down the stretch and took the game from us.”

In his first career collegiate game, Bridges ran for 112 yards on just 15 carries for a pair of touchdowns.

Bitson led the Texans with five receptions for 87 yards while Duncan completed 22 of 39 passes for 217 yards. Defensively, senior linebacker Chadwick Thibodeaux posted a game-high 14 tackles, followed by junior linebacker Zech Hopkins with 10.

“More than anything, we have to be able to learn from this,” Whitten said. “There’s not much room for error. To be in a tight ballgame down the stretch and have penalties like we did, it’s hard to overcome those. It’s disappointing. We had a chance to open up with a win, and we weren’t able to close it out.”

Playing an full eight-game schedule this spring without a bye week, the Texans will not be eligible for the playoffs this season as they transition to FCS – the only division playing a national championship game this spring with the final slated for mid-May. The playoff field has been reduced to 16 teams with 11 of the bids being automatic qualifiers.

With the battle for the five at-large spots will be intense, the Southland Conference figures to be a player for one of the at-large bids before SFA, Central Arkansas, ACU, Lamar, and Sam Houston depart for the WAC in the fall. The Bearkats are favored to challenge for the conference title and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Playing it first game against an FBS opponent next Saturday, Tarleton State (0-1) will hit the road to visit WAC rival New Mexico State (0-0) at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces, NM.

“We have a lot to learn,” Whitten said. “Hopefully, we’ll apply the lessons from tonight and get better in the next one.”

Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 13

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: In wake of Super Bowl LV, football continues as NCAA FCS teams join Division III squads for unprecedented spring season

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: In wake of Super Bowl LV, football continues as NCAA FCS teams join Division III squads for unprecedented spring season

With the unusual and unprecedented becoming the norm in our pre-COVID-19 pandemic world, football season continues on through February and beyond as the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) kicks off Saturday with a single game while Division III moves into Week 2 of the first-ever college football spring season with a full slate of matchups.

Throughout the spring, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus prognosticators will select NCAA FCS and Division III college football games featuring Texas teams.

Playing in its first season as a Division I college football program, the Tarleton State Texans kickoff the spring season by hosting the McNeese State Cowboys at 7 p.m. Saturday in Stephenville’s Memorial Stadium. Coming off back-to-back NCAA Div. II Lone Star Conference championships, the Texans (11-1 in 2019) matchup evenly against McNeese State (7-5 in 2019), which last won the FCS Southland Conference title in 2015.

In Division III action, the winter weather storm event across Texas may wreak havoc with the schedule, causing postponements and cancellations as Howard Payne (0-1) attempts to rebound from a heartbreaking 39-38 loss Texas Lutheran when Yellow Jackets visit Hardin-Simmons Saturday in the season-opening at Abilene’s Shelton Stadium. In the meantime, Trinity and East Texas Baptist will aim for opening the season with back-to-back wins as Trinity (1-0) visits Millsaps (0-1) and East Texas Baptist (1-0) hosts Belhaven (0-1).

Coming off an impressive 41-0 victory over Belhaven last week, the perennial national powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders (1-0) – playing a five-game, conference-only schedule – will have an open date this week.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

TEXAS TWO-STEP

in Pro/College

Both Kansas City & Tampa Bay will have notable former Texas high school football standouts playing in Super Bowl LV

By enduring 26 years since a professional football team from Texas has played in the NFL’s pinnacle of success, fanatical Texas football fans find themselves struggling to embrace the Super Bowl LV with the zest fitting of the pomp and circumstance.

But in reality, one simply needs to refocus on the purest form of the game we love – Texas high school football. When the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field for Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, there will be no shortage of former Texas schoolboy stars in action.

Of course, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his Lone Star State roots have been well documented as a prep star at Whitehouse High School. But the Chiefs will have three more former Texas high school football players on the field in outside linebacker Alex Okafor from Pflugerville (Texas Longhorns), free safety Armani Watts from North Forney (Texas A&M Aggies), and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones from Sealy (Texas A&M Aggies).

On the other sideline, TXHSFB alum will be represented with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by wide receiver Mike Evans of Galveston Ball (Texas A&M Aggies), running back Ronald Jones II of McKinney North (USC), and safety Antoine Winfield of The Woodlands (Minnesota).

Headlining the list of former TXHSFB standouts with Kansas City, Mahomes was born in Tyler before playing football, baseball and basketball at Whitehouse. During his senior year, Mahomes led the Wildcats by passing for 4,619 yards and 50 touchdowns while rushing for 948 yards and 15 scores in 2013.

For Tampa Bay, Evans draws top billing as he excelled at Galveston Ball in basketball, football as well as track & field. Although he only played football his senior season catching 25 passes for 648 yards and seven touchdowns, Evans starred in basketball with 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. But as a high school player, Jones enjoyed a more noteworthy career as a McKinney North Bulldog as a four-star recruit ranked as the fourth best running back in the nation.

Of course, putting aside the Texas connections, we still circle back to Mahomes and the quarterback matchup in Super Bowl LV. For the first time in Super Bowl history, the home team will be playing in their home stadium for the big game as the Buccaneers will essentially be hosting the Kansas City Chiefs while featuring arguably two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Although in just his third season as a starter, Mahomes will be looking to win his second Super Bowl by leading the Chiefs to becoming the first team since the New England Patriots in 2003 & 2004 to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies.

And then there’s Buccaneer quarterback Tom Brady looking to build on his NFL record by winning a seventh Super Bowl ring in his unprecedented 10th trip to the big game.

Granted, the Super Bowl quarterback matchup offers a compelling storyline that ranks with the best in the 55-year history of the showcase. But if that’s not enough for some, there’s still plenty for the purest Texas football fan to watch.

Courtesy Photos

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 12

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: With all eyes on Super Bowl LV matchup, NCAA Division III spring football season begins Saturday

In our pre-COVID-19 pandemic world, the annual pomp and circumstance of the NFL’s Super Bowl universally marked the conclusion of the American football season at all levels of competition.

That was then. This is now.

Just when we thought football season was almost over, it’s about to start all over again. As Super Bowl LV closes out the traditional fall football season for the high school, college and professional levels, the spring football season will begin for many FCS and NCAA Division III programs.

So this week, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus will not only focus on the pinnacle of professional football by picking the winner between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, our prognosticators will select NCAA Division III college football games featuring Texas teams in the first week of spring football.

When the Chiefs battle the Buccaneers on their home field of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida Sunday, the quarterback matchup provides the most intriguing storyline in Super Bowl LV as six-time big game winning quarterback Tom Brady faces 2019 NFL most valuable players and defending champion Patrick Mahomes.

Brady will be playing in an unprecedented 10th Super Bowl while looking to extend his NFL record to seven wins. On the flip side, Mahomes and the Chiefs will be looking to become the first team since the Brady-led New England Patriots in 2003 & 2004 to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

As NCAA Division III spring football kicks off Saturday, the perennial national powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders headline the limited slate of games featuring a number of Texas school. Although the NCAA canceled the Division III football championships, the Crusaders will play a five-game, conference-only schedule.

This season, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel consists of newcomer Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), while Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton, The Sports Buzz  photographer David Harding and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 spring football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for the unprecedented spring football games.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GIVING BACK TO THE GAME

in Reporting

Legendary Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten named head football coach at Argyle Liberty Christian

Throughout his NFL professional football career, future Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten has been an example to all of us – doing the right thing and giving it everything he had. Now, Witten will become a hands-on role model for a group of Texas high school football players.

Passing up several NFL and college football assistant coaching opportunities, Witten, 38, chose to become the head coach at the school his children attend – Argyle Liberty Christian.

“Faith. Family. Football,” Witten said in a statement released by the private school, located about 30 miles north of Fort Worth that competes in Division I of TAPPS — the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools. “In this next chapter, it is important to me to be the best father and husband I can be, while making a positive impact in the community and share the wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years to positively impact the next generation.”

After a legendary 17-year NFL career, Witten announced his retirement last week and intends to sign a one-day contract with Dallas in March to officially retire as a Cowboy once his contract with the Las Vegas Raiders expires. Playing in more games (271) than any other tight end in NFL history, Witten played 16 seasons with the Cowboys before spending the 2018 season as ESPN’s Monday Night Football analyst. Witten returned to the field in 2019 with the Cowboys before playing for the Raiders in 2020.

Entering the NFL as a third-round pick in 2003, Witten was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, matching Hall of Fame defensive lineman Bob Lilly for the most in Dallas history. Trailing only Hall of Fame Tony Gonzalez for most receptions and yards as a tight end in NFL history, Witten finishes his career with 13,046 yards receiving while hauling in 1,228 catches, ranking fourth on the NFL’s all-time reception list.

In 16 seasons with the Cowboys, Witten ranks as the Dallas’ all-time leader in receptions (1,215) and yards (12,977) as well as second in touchdown catches (72). While playing in a team-record 255 games which included 245 starts, Witten only missed one game in his career because of a broken jaw as a rookie.

“I am very excited about Jason coming on board and joining the Liberty Christian coaching staff,” Liberty athletic director Johnny Isom said. “We have an extremely talented, hard-working group of coaches, and he will undoubtedly prove to be a wonderful addition. The football program will be in great hands under his leadership, and I cannot wait to see the impact that he will have on the lives of athletes.”

Former Argyle Liberty Christian head coach Steven Greek resigned last month after posting a 5-15 record over the last two seasons, including 2-7 in 2020. Greek led Liberty Christian to an 8-5 record and spot in the TAPPS Division I state semifinals in 2018 in his first season as head coach.

“For the Liberty family, we know him as the dedicated husband and father, a man of Godly character, and a servant leader,” Liberty Christian President Blair McCullough said in a statement. “Jason, Michelle, and their four children have been a part of our Liberty Christian family for more than eight years, so when the Liberty community thinks about Jason Witten, we think of a Warrior. I am thrilled for our football team, coaches, student body, school community, and of course the Witten family.”

Courtesy Photos

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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