FRISCO, Texas – Sophomore running back Jerome Regal rushed for 251 yards and two touchdowns, including the deciding score in a second overtime, as Tarleton State University overcame four turnovers to upset longtime nemesis Abilene Christian 41-34 Saturday night in Toyota Stadium.
ACU rallied from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit, scoring twice in a 1:18 stretch early in the fourth quarter to take a 31-28 lead. The Texans moved 61 yards in 14 plays in the last 1:38 to give Blake Barnes a shot at a 29-yard field goal, which was good with four seconds remaining. The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime period before Regal scored his deciding TD on a 10-yard run. ACU moved the ball to the Tarleton State 14-yard line on its final possession game of the game, but John David Baker’s fourth-down pass on the final play of the game fell incomplete to give the Texans the win.
The Wildcats fell to 3-2 in their first season as a NCAA Division I FCS independent, while the Division II Texans moved to 3-0. The Tarleton win broke a three-year ACU winning streak in the series between former Lone Star Conference rivals that dates back to 1920. It was ACU’s first overtime game since 2009, when the Wildcats beat Texas A&M-Commerce 20-14 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Baker led the Wildcats in passing (24 of 42 for 209 yards) and rushing (17 for 87 yards and 1 TD). His first interception of the season was a costly one, resulting in a Tarleton pick-six that threatened to blow open the game late in the first quarter.
The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs on their first drive of the game, passing up a field goal from the Texan 26-yard-line, only to see a Baker to Darian Hogg pass fall incomplete. Two possessions later, Tarleton quarterback Jake Fenske connected with Bubba Tandy on a 26-yard TD pass play at the 2:21 mark of the first quarter. Blake Barnes’ successful PAT put Tarleton up, 7-0.
On the ensuring possession, Baker threw a pass into the hands of safety Desmond Jackson, who returned it untouched 51 yards for a touchdown with 1:11 left, increasing the Texans’ lead to 14-0. Freshman placekicker Nik Grau put ACU on the scoreboard at the 10:55 mark of the second quarter with a 36-yard field goal, shortening the Texan advantage to 14-3.
The Texans turned the ball over to ACU when Regal fumbled the ball after a catch and cornerback Keith Barnett recovered at the TSU 47-yard line. Three clutch catches by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and a leaping 16-yarder by wide receiver Darian Hogg set up a 3-yard pass from Baker to tight end Jonathan Parker with 4:25 left in the half. Grau’s PAT pulled ACU to within 14-10.
Tarleton responded with an 11-play march downfield, with Regal accounting for most of of the yardage. The sophomore from Dallas capped things with a 6-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left, restoring his team’s 11-point lead, 21-10.
A 37-yard punt by Tarleton’s Issac Arellano pinned ACU on its 1-yard line to begin the second half. A 13-yard run by Baker, which began by evading the grasp of a Texan tackler in the end zone, moved the Wildcats out of danger and allowed them to punt the ball to the Texan 32-yard line. From there, Richardson forced a fumble by Regal on the next play, recovered by linebacker Blake Rudd, that put the Wildcats in business at the TSU 43 with 8:19 left.
Baker rescued the drive on fourth and 6 at the Texan 28-yard line, rushing 17 yards up the middle for a first down. He hit running back Charcandrick West on a pass over the middle to the 3-yard line, then bull-rushed behind his line to give ACU a first down at the 1. West ran the ball in from there, capping a 10-play, 3:41 drive to pull the Wildcats to within four, 21-17 with 6 minutes left in the quarter.
Tarleton answered once again with a time-consuming drive covering 69 yards in 10 plays, finished off when wide receiver Jeken Frye caught a 6-yard scoring pass from Fenske to move the Texan lead to 28-17.
The Texans lost their third fumble of the game when Fenske mishandled a handoff to Regal, and defensive Nick Richardson recovered for ACU at the Tarleton 42-yard line. Baker scrambled five yards for a key first down on second and 5 from the 15, then ran untouched up the middle for another 10 yards and a TD to draw his team again to within four, 28-24, with 12:57 left.
Wildcat defensive tackle Jake Finney gave ACU new life when he intercepted a short pass by Fenske at the Tarleton 18-yard-line with 12:30 left. A leaping catch on third and 10 by wide receiver DeMarcus Thompson at the Texan 14-yard line preserved the Wildcats’ short drive, and West ran up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown with 11:39 left. Grau’s PAT gave ACU a 31-28 lead.
After the two teams traded punts, Tarleton began at its 36 with 6:16 left. A 25-yard pass from Collin Strahan to Le’Nard Meyers moved the ball to the ACU 41, but Strahan was tackled for a loss on second down, a third-down pass fell incomplete, and Tarleton was forced to punt again. The Texans pinned ACU on its 10-yard line with 3:51 remaining.
ACU couldn’t advance past its 16, but a 57-yard punt by freshman Austin Kilcullen flipped the field on the Texans, giving them the ball at their 27 with 1:42 left. That’s where Tarleton began its dramatic drive to the Wildcat 12-yard line, where Barnes booted his game-tying 29-yard field goal with four seconds left.
On ACU’s first play of its first possession in overtime, a pass interference penalty gave the Wildcats the ball at the Texan 10. A run by Baker was stuffed for no gain on first down, and his short pass in the right flat to Gabriel moved the ball to the 1-yard-line. When Baker was stopped on second down for no gain, the Wildcats choose to attempt a field goal, which Grau kicked sucessfully from the 17 to put ACU ahead 34-31.
On Tarleton’s first possession, ACU stopped two running plays, then the Texans attempted their own field goal, a 34-yarder by Barnes that was good and tied the game at 34.
Tarleton got the ball to begin the second overtime. A pass to Tandy and three straight rushes by Regal moved the ball to the Wildcat 5-yard line, but a false-start penalty moved the ball back to the 10. On third and 9, Regal ran for his second TD of the night. Barnes’ PAT gave TSU a 41-34 lead.
The Texans stopped ACU on its possession, despite the Wildcats having two shots at the end zone on fourth and 9 from the Tarleton 14-yard line, thanks to a penalty.
Tarleton totaled 484 yards of offense to ACU’s 361. Fenske was 16 of 32 for 159 yards, two TDs and one interception. Le/Nard Meyers led the Texans in receiving with eight catches for 82 yards. Gabriel was ACU’s most productive receiver with eight catches for 78 yards.
ACU travels to Kansas next Saturday to take on Division II powerhouse Pittsburg State at 2 p.m. CST.