NACOGDOCHES — Tarleton State strung together several big plays in handing the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks a loss in their home opener Saturday night.
The NCAA Division II Texans compiled 210 yards on three scoring plays in the first half and then turned to the defense in the second half in turning back the Lumberjacks 37-26 at Homer Bryce Stadium.
Making its season debut, Tarleton finished with 667 yards offense, including 179 yards rushing by Daniel McCants and 372 yards passing and two touchdowns by quarterback Ben Holmes.
McCants had scoring runs of 48 yards and 99 yards in the opening half.
Tarleton receiver J.F. Thomas had seven receptions for 193 yards, including a 63-yard reception late in the first half that gave the Texans a 21-20 lead at intermission.
Tarleton is coached by Todd Whitten, a former Lumberjack quarterback who also was head coach at Sam Houston State.
SFA was paced by tailback Da'Leon Ward's 149 yards rushing. Quarterback Trae Self threw for 213 yards and one score. The sophomore was held to just 13 completions and was sacked three times.
SFA managed a respectable 414 yards offense, but failed to convert in key situations. Senior kicker Storm Ruiz kicked four field goals, two in each half.
SFA was held to field goals of 29 yards and 32 yards by Ruiz in the second half.
Tarleton led 21-20 after an entertaining first half that included 639 yards offense between the two teams — 386 by the visiting Texans.
Tarleton scored first, then SFA scored, Tarleton scored again, before SFA reeled off three straight scores to lead 20-14.
The Texans responded to that SFA spree with a shocker, a 63-yard pass from Holmes to Thomas, who made a catch while being tightly guarded before completing the play with about a 25-yard run to the end zone with 24 seconds left in the half.
That was just one of several big plays by the Texans.
They opened the game with a two-play scoring drive, the cappper being a 48-yard scoring sprint by McCants.
Later, McCants topped the first score by plenty, breaking through a wave of defenders and racing 99 yards for a score that gave the Texans a 14-7 edge.
After that score, SFA reeled off 13 points. Self threw a scoring strike to Lar'Dario Cobb for 19 yards, and kicker Storm Ruiz kicked field goals of 36 and 37 yards.
The Texans meet Doane University at 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at Memorial Stadium in Stephenville. SFA plays Southern Utah at 7:05 p.m. Sept. 14 in Cedar City, Utah.