ST. GEORGE — An up-and-down first half tipped in Dixie State’s favor to give the Trailblazers their first win in Division I in their flagship sport, topping Tarleton on the road 26-14.
It was not only the program’s first game in the lower division of Division I, but the team’s first since Nov. 16, 2019 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the subdivision teams to push their 2020 fall season to the spring of 2021.
The Trailblazers received the first kickoff and set up its offense for the first time as a member of the Football Championship Subdivision.
It looked overmatched at first after a rush for a loss and a rushed pass resulted in a short gain, bringing up third and 9. The Texans defensive line punched through quickly and controlled both running back Quali Conley and quarterback Kody Wilstead. Then Wilstead found wide receiver Jaleny Powell down the left sideline, creating just enough separation for a sprawling catch and a 38-yard gain to the Tarleton 36.
Wilstead threw a trio of incomplete passes bookending a Conley 2-yard rush to turn the ball over on downs. But just two plays later, Dixie strip-sacked Tarleton quarterback Steven Duncan and recovered it, getting a second chance on the offensive 14 as the Texans took a personal foul on the play. The ball moved to the seven after an attempted pass saw a targeting penalty called on Tarleton.
Conley pushed the ball through up the middle on second and goal to put Dixie on the board.
The next drive, the Texans lobbed an easy interception to cornerback Devin Chandler. The teams would combine for four turnovers in the first quarter alone. Both Conley and Wilstead each coughed up a fumble. Tarleton committed four penalties for 36 yards in the frame, and the ‘Blazers held it to just five first downs.
The scoreboard changed next on a 37-yard field goal from James Baird at the 13:16 mark of the second quarter. Tarleton punched through nine minutes later on a fourth-and-goal at the one yard line as the Trailblazers nearly held the line following a first-and-goal at the two.
GAME DAY! The 469-day wait is OVER! DSU's 2021 Spring season is here!
🏈 – @DixieState_FB at #22 @TarletonFB
🏟 – Stephenville, Texas
⏰ – 1 p.m. (MT)
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— Dixie State Athletics (@DixieAthletics) February 27, 2021
In response, Dixie scored just a minute and a half later as Wilstead hit tight end Chase Hess on a deep slant over the middle for a 43-yard TD to make it 17-7 with 2:05 to go in the first half.
Tarleton stormed down the field as the clock ran down, but eventually was forced into a 25-yard field goal attempt as the clock ticked down. However, heavy wind pushed the short kick wide left as the clock expired and Dixie took a 17-7 lead into the half.
Dixie advanced 293 yards of offense in the first half.
Tarleton started the second half with the ball. It kept it on the ground, and Dixie didn’t have an answer as Ryheem Skinner rushed for 51 yards in five plays. However, Skinner was subbed out and his replacement, Khalil Banks, coughed it up and the Trailblazers once again recovered.
On the ensuing possession, Dixie moved into the offensive end on a pass interference call before Wilstead bombed a pass to Deven Osborne into the wind for 46 yards into the wind. Osborne caught the pass in a slide, being downed at the one. Wilstead pushed forward himself on the next play for the touchdown, and the wind pushed the point-after attempt wide to make it 23-7.
Tarleton responded right away with a 93-yard kickoff return for a TD by Kaylon Horton, keeping the Texans within two possessions, 23-14.
In the fourth quarter, Dixie hit on a field goal to turn it into a two-touchdown game. It appeared to catch a break as Tarleton’s Duncan came up short on a slide to force fourth down and a punt on the ensuing possession. The punt hit a Trailblazer square in the back and the Texans recovered.
Two plays later, Duncan was strip sacked and Dixie recovered again. It went three-and-out.
The score held at 26-14 the rest of the way. Dixie State recorded 446 yards of offense, 350 in the air. The Trailblazers turned the ball over three times. Tarleton recorded 375 yards of offense and had five turnovers.
Wilstead went 21-for-38 throwing with a passing TD and a rushing one. Conley recorded 68 yards rushing on 22 attempts. Hess recorded 97 yards receiving.
Dixie moves to 1-0 and will play next on March 7 at New Mexico State.
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