Tarleton State is in its first season as an FCS program, but it’s possible the Texans didn’t aim high enough.
In their maiden voyage against FBS competition, Tarleton met New Mexico State in El Paso and blew out the Aggies, 43-17.
The game was New Mexico State’s first since Nov. 30, 2019, while Tarleton played last week, a 40-37 double overtime loss to McNeese State. The game was a glorified scrimmage for NMSU even by the standards of this topsy-turvy spring season; the Aggies have just one other game slated for this spring, March 7 against Dixie State.
Still, this was still a team just dipping its toes into Division I football pushing around a longstanding FBS member. Tarleton entered the game down five starters due to COVID-19 contact tracing, including starting quarterback Steven Duncan. Backup Cam Burston totaled 331 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for a 70-yard touchdown on the game’s first play and hit Gabe Douglas for an 86-yard touchdown pass on Tarleton’s second snap.
The Texans out-gained New Mexico State 337-55 in the first half, building a 33-7 lead while allowing points only on a 98-yard kickoff return.
“(This win) is huge,” Whitten said after the game. “Everybody in the country is facing a lot of adversity and we’re no different. I couldn’t be more proud of our football team and the way they fought this afternoon. Our guys stepped up and bought into ‘next man up’, especially our quarterback Cam (Burston).
“I couldn’t be more proud of Cam,” he added. “From going from the backup role to getting out there and playing really well. We gave him the game ball. I’m as proud of Cam as any quarterback I’ve ever coached.”
Next man up! 😤 Cam Burston with the game ball after tonight’s big win over FBS New Mexico State pic.twitter.com/O2GsUxUl7y
— Tarleton Football (@TarletonFB) February 22, 2021
Tarleton, located in Stephenville, Texas, is two games (and 15 months) removed from a loss to Texas A&M-Commerce in the Division II playoffs. The Texans face fellow D2-turned-FCS traveler Dixie State at home on Saturday, game one in a home-and-home as part of an 8-game spring slate that also features games against Division II members Mississippi College, Northeastern (Oklahoma) State and East Central.
Tarleton will compete as an FCS independent before the revived WAC gets up and running; the program also has trips to TCU (2022), Texas Tech (2023), and Texas A&M (2025) on future schedules. It’s a long way from beating a rusty, down-on-its-luck FBS independent on a neutral field to competing with a Big 12 or SEC team on their own field. But then again, Tarleton State has come a very long way in a very short time already.