SPRING FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Tarleton avenges early season FCS loss to Dixie State; Sam Houston State shocks seventh-ranked Nicholls State
With the unprecedented college spring football season in full swing, the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and NCAA Division III races have begun to take shape.
Playing its first season as a NCAA Division I (FCS) program, Tarleton State (3-2) avenged an early season home loss by dominating future Western Athletic Conference (WAC) rival Dixie State, 37-15, last Saturday. But Sam Houston State delivered the showcase shocker by destroying seventh-ranked Nicholls State, 71-17.
In other FCS action across Texas, new head coach Blane Morgan earned his first win as Lamar (1-2) edged McNeese State (0-3), 27-26, in overtime in the Southland Conference’s final Battle of the Border rivalry game, while Prairie View A&M (2-0) outlasted visiting Grambling State (0-2), 17-10.
Clinching the right to host the NCAA Division III’s American Southwest Conference Championship game, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys rolled past Howard Payne, 41-14, last Saturday.
In other NCAA Division III action, the American Southwest Conference (ASC) featured Louisiana College (2-1) slipping past winless Southwestern (0-3), 34-31, while Texas Lutheran (3-1) crushed McMurry (1-2), 51-21. In Southern Athletic Association (SAA), Trinity (Tex) (3-1) rolled past Birmingham-Southern (Ark) (2-2), 38-15, on the road, while Centre (Ken) (2-2) handed Austin College (1-3) a disappointing, 44-20, defeat Sunday afternoon.
TARLETON STATE 37, DIXIE STATE 15
ST.GEORGE, Utah – So much for “home sweet home.” In the second meeting of the season between future WAC rivals Tarleton State and Dixie State, the Texans served up a dish of cold revenge by dominating the Trailblazers in their home opener 37-15 at Greater Zion Stadium.
Led by the dynamic passing combo of junior quarterback Steven Duncan and senior widereceiver Tariq Bitson, the Texans (3-2) jumped out to a 17-0 first half lead on their way to rolling up 514 yards of total offense while shutting down the prolific Dixie State offense.
“We played really well on offense and took care of the football,” Tarelton State head coach Todd Whitten said. “We didn’t have any turnovers until very late in the game. I thought our defense was absolutely outstanding.”
Defensively, sophomore Linebacker D.J. Harris led the Texans with 12 tackles, while senior linebacker Ronnell Wilson added eight more to his career total, moving him past Ranardrick Phillips and Tony Tuck to No. 9 on Tarleton’s all-time tackle list. In the process, Tarleton State limited Dixie State to and unproductive 364 yards of total offense, including only 226 over the first three quarters.
Duncan completed 23 of 33 passes for a career-high 347 yards and four touchdowns, hooking up with Bitson 12 times for a career-high 202 yards and two scores. Senior Running back Ryheem Skinner led the rushing attack with 74 yards on 22 carries, while Adrian Guzman nailed three fields, including a booming a 45-yarder in the first half.
Bitson became just the second Texan since 2010 with 200 yards receiving in a game, joining Zimari Manning (257 at UT Permian Basin in 2019). Bitson and Manning were both All-Americans in 2019.
“Dixie State has one of the top two or three pass offenses in the country, and our defense shut them down,” Whitten said. “A lot of credit to Coach (Marcus) Patton, the defensive staff and our players. We still need to finish better on offense, but we had over 500 yards and 37 points. So all in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with our football program.”
SAM HOUSTON 71, NICHOLLS STATE 17
HUNTSVILLE – Despite falling behind early, the 12th-ranked Sam Houston State Bearkats took firm grip of the driver’s seat for a Southland Conference title with an overwhelming 71-17 victory over seventh-ranked Nicholls State Saturday.
Scoring 30 unanswered points to overcome an early deficit, Sam Houston (2-0) tied the game with 3:01 left in the opening quarter and scored 64 of the remaining 74 points to dismantle Nicholls State (2-1). The win gives SHSU a resume boost as they seek a return to the FCS playoffs.
Bearkat quarterback Eric Schmid completed 21 of 32 passes for 366 yards and six touchdowns. connecting with nine different receivers – one shy of setting a single-game program record. Sam Houston State’s victory proved to be the largest against a top-10 foe since 2011, and the Bearkats defense became a major force in the blowout. Holding the vaunted Colonels rushing attack to 118 yards, the Bearkats pressured Nicholls quarterbacks all game.
HARDIN-SIMMONS 41, HOWARD PAYNE 14
ABILENE – Clinching the right to host the American Southwest Conference Championship game, Hardin-Simmons destroyed Howard Payne, 41-14, Saturday at Shelton Stadium.
Quarterback Kyle Jones completed 21 of 33 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as the Cowboys rolled up 601 yards of total offense. Piling up 324 yards on the ground, Marc Reed led the Cowboys with 114 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, followed by Kolby Youngblood with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown, as well as Myles Featherston with 78 yards and a score.
Defensively, Matt Mitchell enjoyed his best day as a Cowboy with 13 tackles, followed by Dedrick Strambler with 12 stops as the Cowboy defense held the Yellowjackets to 287 total yards. The Cowboys will host the ASC Championship game March 27 against the winner of the Mary Hardin-Baylor-Louisiana College game this week.
Photos courtesy of TARLETON STATE FOOTBALL, UMHB ATHLETICS & HARDIN-SIMMONS ATHLETICS
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