Story and photo courtesy of Abilene Christian Athletics
ARLINGTON, Texas – Mitchell Gale's two second-half touchdown passes to Taylor Gabriel powered No. 20 Abilene Christian University to a 34-31 comeback win over rival Tarleton State in the second annual Lone Star Football Festival in Cowboys Stadium.
ACU (2-1 overall and 1-1 in the Lone Star Conference) recovered from a lethargic first half to overtake the Texans, who last week shocked LSC favorite Midwestern State, 20-17, in their season opener.
Gale completed 27 of 42 passes for 279 yards and directed his team to 24 second-half points to erase a 20-10 TSU lead after two quarters. Gabriel caught five passes for 50 yards after the Texans neutralized the speedy wide receiver and most of ACU's offense in the first half.
Aaron Doyle threw for 377 yards and two touchdowns to lead Tarleton (1-1 overall and in the LSC), which ran up 556 yards of offense but was flagged for 11 penalties. TSU's Jerome Regal led all rushers with 103 yards and had five catches for 62 yards and a TD. Clifton Rhodes caught 9 passes for 106 yards, and Jeken Frye snagged 10 for 92 yards.
ACU went on top first when junior Charcandrick West scored on a 1-yard run at the 8:38 mark of the first quarter, the result of great field position when Tarleton couldn't advance past its 14-yard line, and a punt gave the Wildcats the ball at midfield.
Tarleton's defense dug in and the Texans answered back with four straight scoring drives, the first two ending with TD passes from Doyle: Regal on a 16-yarder and Vaughn Smith on a 10-yarder to hand the Texans a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Blade Barnes added 28-yard and 41-yard field goals in the second quarter, giving his team a 20-7 lead.
Morgan Lineberry's 27-yard field goal closed the gap to 20-10 just before halftime, and Thor Woerner's interception of Doyle's pass at the TSU 4-yard line stopped what looked like another sure Texan score in the final minute of the half.
Travis Tarver's 7-yard scoring run pulled ACU to within 20-17, and then Gabriel returned a third-quarter punt 51 yards to set up another Wildcat TD – his own – when he dove to catch a 6-yard pass from Gale with 4:03 left.
Lineberry (a 30-yarder) and Barnes (a 25-yarder) traded field goals to open the fourth quarter before the acrobatic Gabriel caught a 16-yard pass from Gale and dove into the end zone to cap ACU's big comeback.
Tarver had 29 of ACU's 55 rushing yards, and four Wildcat receivers had more than 50 yards each: Darian Hogg (67), Gabriel, Demarcus Thompson (57) and Tarver (56). Abilene Christian's defense was led by L.B. Suggs (11 tackles) and 10 tackles each from Angel Lopez, Woerner and Justin Stephens.
The Wildcats travel to San Angelo next Saturday to face longtime LSC rival Angelo State at 6 p.m. Tarleton State hosts Eastern New Mexico at 7 p.m.