Early in the third quarter Saturday night, the Texas State Bobcats scored the first offensive touchdown of the night at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Then they caught Texas Tech napping on the following kickoff, recovering an onside kick near midfield.
But the Bobcats were flagged for touching the ball before it went 10 yards and Tech took over at the visitor’s 44-yard line.
Five plays later, Davis Webb hit Eric Ward in the end zone for Tech’s first offensive score of the night and a 20-7 lead.
The onside kick penalty won’t be a turnover in the box score, but if it wasn’t called, the Bobcats would have had a short field trailing 13-7.
And that score might have been different if the Bobcats had not turned the ball over three times in their first four possessions of the game — one of them a fumble forced in the Bobcat backfield by Tech’s Kerry Hyder deep in Texas State territory.
The Red Raider defensive lineman recovered the ball and was heading to the end zone when he was tackled and fumbled. Teammate Will Smith picked up the ball at the 9-yard line and carried it the rest of the way for a 10-0 Tech lead with 14:35 left in the second quarter.
At halftime, despite giving up 281 yards to Tech in total offense while gaining only 85, the Bobcats only trailed 13-0.
Part of that were the turnovers and part was Tech’s defense making big plays.
Twice the Bobcats had first and goal at Tech’s 1-yard line and didn’t score.
One drive in the first quarter ended with Bobcat quarterback Tyler Arndt running to his right, then threw back to his left and was picked off by Tech’s Pete Robertson.
“You can’t turn the ball over and that’s on me,” said a muted Arndt after the game. He said he had a receiver open in the back of the end zone, but “made a bad throw … off my back foot.”
In the second quarter, the Bobcats again were threatening a yard out. Tech’s defense forced losses on two runs before Texas State passed on a field goal, then gave the ball back to Tech after Arndt threw incomplete on fourth down.
Bobcat coach Dennis Franchione complimented Tech’s defense, saying it’s a “group of kids who have had five coordinators in five years. They did a good job.”
But Tech’s offense also struggled with freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was replaced by freshman Davis Webb in the first half.
So when Bobcat running back Robert Lowe broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to cut Tech’s lead to 13-7, Bobcat fans had hope.
They were down by a single score, had twice driven a yard from glory and had not allowed an offensive score to Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders, who had to settle for two field goals along with the defensive touchdown.
Then that flag. And the Tech touchdown.
Then it got worse for the visitors from San Marcos, who have now lost to Tech in three-straight seasons.
The Bobcats punted, Tech drove for a field goal.
After the teams traded punts, Tech’s defense forced another Texas State punt, but Raider Blake Dees sniffed out a fake and Tech took over at the Bobcat 24. Six plays later, Tech scored another touchdown.
Tech tacked on another field goal after another Bobcat punt and it was over.
“I thought we could have won the game,” said Franchione, who then pointed out the fumble inside the 10 and not scoring when getting to the 1-yard line twice.
Also, both offensive touchdowns his defense gave up to Tech came when the Red Raiders started the drive in Bobcat territory.
“There are things we can take out of this, but we were just not good enough to beat a Top 25 team,” he said.