By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University got a little too big a dose of senior Derrick Ross.
Ross, who entered the game as the second-leading rusher in NCAA Division II, carried 27 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns to lift Tarleton State to a 34-27 Lone Star Conference victory over the Greyhounds Saturday at Blackwater Draw.
Ross scored on runs of 10, 10, 14 and 38 yards, the latter giving the 22nd-ranked Texans a 31-21 lead.
ENMU (4-4, 2-2 LSC South) pulled close with just under a minute left when sophomore quarterback Michael Benton found Derrick Hunter on an 8-yard scoring pass.
Eastern tried an onside kick, but the ball rolled off Hunter’s fingertips and out-of-bounds.
“It was a hard-fought battle, but we knew that coming in,” said Tarleton coach Sam McElroy after the Texans (6-1, 3-1) earned their first win at Greyhound Stadium in six tries. “We feel good. Coming to Blackwater Draw and leaving with a win, you feel like you’ve done something special.”
Ross limped off the field early in the final quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. McElroy said Ross could have returned if necessary.
“He’s a good football player and he’s done a good job for us,” McElroy said. “We had some silly penalties that cost us tonight, but we overcame it and found a way to win.”
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said the Hounds didn’t play well in several areas, but he came away impressed with the Texans.
“Derrick Ross is the strongest back in the league that I’ve seen,” Ribaudo said. “They’re a great team. They don’t have a weakness.”
One week after tearing up unbeaten West Texas A&M’s offense for 632 total yards, the Hounds were limited to 316 yards by Tarleton. Benton carried 24 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns, but managed only three completions in 12 attempts — all to Hunter — for 19 yards.
Senior running back Jason Tezeno, who ran for 192 yards at WT, managed only 21 yards on 11 carries.
“They did a good job of shutting down our running game,” Ribaudo said. “Basically, they had it whittled down to where we only had a couple of (effective) plays.
“They just had a good scheme, and took Jason out of the game.”
Ribaudo said Benton saw limited time in practice during the week due to back problems, and it affected his timing and passing.
The game was delayed at halftime for about 45 minutes due to a lightning warning in the area. Rain during the intermission left the field damp over the final two quarters.
Benton led the Hounds on a 13-play, 80-yard drive following the opening kickoff, capping it with a fourth-and-goal, 1-yard keeper for the score. But the Hounds followed with three consecutive three-and-outs, and Tarleton moved in front 21-14 at halftime.
On the first play of the second half, ENMU cornerback stripped the ball from Ross and linebacker Tony Johnson recovered at the Tarleton 27, setting up fullback Robert Garza’s game-tying 2-yard TD blast.
But field goals of 39 and 34 yards by Paul Williams around Ross’ final TD run put the Texans back in control.