Week 5 Recap: Tarleton Outlasts SLU, 14-13, after Lions’ Crucial Special Teams Mistake

The Tarleton Texans came to Hammond to face the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, and after both teams scored early, it looked like the game would be a shootout. But after the first quarter, it was a defense-dominated game, and neither team scored until 5:00 or so in the fourth quarter, before SLU punched it in. But after a failed PAT where a bad snap and the ball ended up being kicked while flat. The Lions never touched the ball again after than, getting worn down by the Texans’ rushing attack, and the final score was Tarleton 14, SLU 13.

The first quarter started out with Tarleton receiving the ball first. Unlike last week, the Lions were able to force a punt on the opening drive of the game. After a Jaden Smith catch and first down, Coryell Pierce was able to force a huge sack, and Tarleton’s carries afterwards to Kayvon Britten weren’t able to reach the yardage needed for a first down. SLU received the ball, and on the Lions’ opening play from scrimmage, Eli Sawyer threw a rare-for-him interception, and Blake Smith was able to run it back for a touchdown.

The Lions received the ball back and handed the ball off to Harlan Dixon for a 5-yard carry on the opening play. After a Dixon first-down catch, Zachary Clement entered at quarterback for his first action of the day. Clement threw a three-yard swing pass to Rodeo Graham Jr. before taking a 9-yard bootleg for a first down. Sawyer re-entered the game and found Corey Lorio for a short pass. On third and 5, at Tarleton’s 23, Sawyer found leading receiver Darius Lewis for a 4-ayrd swing pass for 4 yards. On 4th and 1, the playcall was a direct snap to Bauer Sharp, who ran it all the way for a 19-yard touchdown up the middle. Tie game.

After an uneventful TSU three-and-out, SLU took over once again. After a short carry by Graham and a first down catch by Graham that was called back for penalty, Dixon was able to find a first down on a catch. Then, on a pass intended for Sharp, the Texans’ Keldric Williams came up with another interception. TSU was able to punch it in on a 15-yard touchdown run by Britten with 0:53 left in the 1st quarter.

Coryell Pierce had a solid return that set up the Lion offense with good field position, at their own 35. Sawyer started off the drive under center, and the quarter ended shortly thereafter. Clement came in on the first play of the second drive and rushed for 32 on a keeper, before finding Jacob Logan for a 5-yard connection, his first completion in two weeks. Sawyer re-entered the ballgame and immediately found Xavier Hill for a short pass, 6 yards in total, on his first play back in. 4th and 1 came up, and Bauer Sharp took a direct snap, and was brought down in the backfield for a loss of one and a turnover on downs.

Tarleton took over on their own 10-yardline and seeded a 12-yard carry Derrel Kelley III. After forcing a punt later on in the drive, SLU responds with a three-and-out. Tarleton takes over, and Kelley starts it off with a run that eats up yards, before a Victor Gabalis pass is nearly intercepted by Tyrone Legette. The next play was a sack-fumble by KK Reno, who recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown from 40 yards out. However, the play was ruled an incomplete pass, a very questionable call considering the ball flew backwards out of Gabalis’ hand.

Legette would revenge his earlier missed interception and the previous “fumble” by intercepting Gabalis on the very next play. Clement trotted out to start the drive at quarterback, and after a Graham carry, Clement himself took the ball around the outside for a 15-yard carry, but the line of scrimmage did not move as Harlan Dixon was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Sawyer re-entered, and Deantre Jackson saw some action in the backfield, seeing carries on the next two plays before Sharp took a 3rd and 1 direct snap for 2 yards and the first down. Clement came back in and immediately found Dixon for a 25-yard pass, before taking a keeper for a short gain. sawyer came in once again and threw once towards Ivan Drobocky, but the pass was incomplete and the Lions attempted a field goal, which missed (wide left). Tarleton received the ball back and after one carry, both teams trotted into the locker room.

SLU received the ball to start the second half, and after a holding penalty pushed the offense back on 1st down, Sawyer was able to find Sharp for a beautiful 23-yard catch, which Sharp had to climb a latter to catch. After some short gains, Connor Briggs saw a rare target, from Clement. Lorio made a 14-yard catch that set up the offense in a great position to score, but Clement fumbled on a keeper, forced and recovered by Steve Albert Jr. On the ensuing possession, TSU handed the ball off to Britten several times before punting.

Sawyer started the next drive for the Lions and made what was perhaps his cleanest throw of the season thus far, connecting with Xavier Hill for 26 in triple coverage. After a questionable OPI on Jacob Logan, Darius Lewis reeled in a 19-yard catch to set up a manageable 3rd and medium. A near-sack forced an incompletion, and Austin Dunlap trotted out there for one of the many times he appeared today.

Backup quarterback Daniel Greek played the entire next drive for the Texans, and it was unclear why Gabalis was on the sidelines. he completed a singular pass for 1 yard all drive, and after several handoffs to both Britten and Kelley, TSU punted, once again. Clement started the drive for SLU, and after one play, was pulled for Sawyer. Lorio had a clutch catch for 12 on 3rd and 10, now at the beginning of the 4th quarter. But three plays later, the Lions found themselves punting yet again.

Gabalis re-entered, and nearly threw an interception to Markell Linzer. After a three-and-out, TSU punter Adrian Guzman shanked a punt that only ended up netting 10 yards, setting SLU up at their opponent’s 35-yardline. Another Lions stalled drive led to a punt, and TSU once again responded with a three-and-out.

The ensuing SLU drive started out hot, with Graham taking the first carry for 14 yards and a first down. After driving down the field with a head of steam, Sawyer found Sharp for a 17-yard catch down the sideline, perhaps matching his earlier play in terms of magnitude. Clement came in and was then able to find Darius Lewis for a 9-yard touchdown out of the flat. But then, a terrible snap led to the ball being kicked flat on the ground, and Tarleton remained up by a singular point.

With five minutes left to go, Tarleton was able to run the ball consistently and chewed enough clock to kneel and end the game, 14-13.

Sawyer did not play well by his standards today, completing 18-29 passes for 199 yards and a pair of interceptions. Clement went 4-5 for 41 yards and a touchdown, along with a fumble lost. Darius Lewis also attempted one pass in the contest. On the other side, Victor Gabalis struggled heavily, only completing 8 out of 21 attempts for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Clement led the Lions in rushing yards, 70 on 11 attempts. Dixon matched Clement with 11 carries, but was only able to muster 29 yards on the ground in total. Graham was able to find 37 yards on 9 carries, and Bauer Sharp ran for the lone rushing touchdown along with 23 yards on just 4 carries. For Tarleton, Britten was able to tally 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and Kelley nearly matched him, with 16-71 on the ground.

Receiving-wise, Harlan Dixon led the Lions in both catches and yards, with 6 and 71. Darius Lewis went 5-49 with the lone receiving touchdown today, with Bauer Sharp going 3-43, Corey Lorio going 4-35, and Xavier Hill going 2-31. For the Texans, Jaden Smith led the squad with 3 catches and 38 yards, and Benjamin Omayebu, the number 1 wideout, was held to just 13 yards on 2 catches.

On defense, Hernan Christophe IV led the team with 10 tackles, and Coryell Pierce recorded the lone sack. On the other side, Jalen Carr and Kyle Taylor led Tarleton with 9 tackles apiece, Kasyus Kurns recorded the lone sack.

Attendance was 3,249 at Strawberry Stadium.

The full box score can be found here.

SLU travels to San Antonio next week for a matchup with Incarnate Word. Tarleton returns home and faces conference opponent Southern Utah.

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