ACU football’s introduction to being a full Div. I program had a heartbreaking end Wednesday night as the Georgia State Panthers beat the Wildcats with seconds left.
The Wildcats lost 38-37 as the Panthers’ Wil Lutz kicked the game-winning field goal with only four seconds remaining on the clock.
“It seems like we self-destructed quite a bit,” head coach Ken Collums said. “It’s disappointing when you can’t close out an opponent who has to score twice in the late going.”
The Wildcats mounted a 14-play, 69-yard drive to start the night and it ended with one of sophomore kicker Nik Grau’s three made field goals. Georgia State quickly answered with a touchdown pass from junior GASU quarterback Nick Arbuckle to tight end junior Joel Ruiz. Georgia State managed to stifle ACU on their second drive and turned it into quick points, making it a 14-3 game.
The Panthers seemed to gain a small foothold on the game until the middle of the second quarter when the ‘Cats found their stride. They scored 13 unanswered points behind the arm of new sophomore quarterback Parker McKenzie. The offense’s most notable play was a 60-yard touchdown pass from McKenzie to junior wide receiver and Cisco transfer Cedric Gilbert.
“I thought he managed very well and didn’t make many mistakes,” Collums said. “There’s certainly room to grow, but for a first game, we’re very happy with what he did.”
A shootout ensued from there as Georgia State answered with an Arbuckle to junior wide receiver Avery Sweeting touchdown to end the half at 21-16 GSU.
The third quarter saw more of the same from the Wildcats’ offense as McKenzie threw a pair of touchdowns to junior tight end Jamie Walker and junior receiver Jace Hudson.
“I just wanted to go out and play a boring game,” McKenzie said. “Just put the ball where guys can make plays and be confident in myself.”
GASU’s offense woke up again in the fourth to score on another Arbuckle touchdown pass to cut the Wildcat’s lead to two. ACU then answered with a McKenzie-to-Cade Stone 7-yard touchdown pass to make the game 37-28 with 6:36 remaining in the game.
Georgia State came back with a nine-play, 77-yard drive that lasted only two minutes and five seconds. Arbuckle threw another touchdown to Joel Ruiz, who finished the game with seven catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panther defense stood its ground just enough to force a punt with 2:41 left in the game. GSU’s offense took the field from the 19-yard line and pushed it to the 27 where the drive looked to stall. Penalties and incomplete passes left Arbuckle and the offense with a 4th and 19. Arbuckle completed a 24-yard post to Lynquez Blair. Senior safety Angel Lopez tackled Blair after the reception but left the game with concussion-like symptoms.
Arbuckle moved the offense into ACU territory and used his legs on runs of 13 and 17 to put the ball on the ACU nine-yard line. Lutz kicked in the 26-yard game winner with four seconds remaining. De’Andre Brown could do little with the return, and the game was over.
The win gave Georgia State it’s first victory in the past sixteen games. ACU lost in a tough fashion but found multiple bright spots in the loss. Parker McKenzie finished with 403 yards, going 30-for-40 and 4 touchdowns to only one interception. McKenzie spread the ball around to nine different receivers on the night. The offense also put up 500 yards of offense under their new quarterback.
Three receivers had four or more catches as Demarcus Thompson led the way with nine catches for 156 yards.
ACU running back Herschel Sims had to leave the game with an apparent ankle injury after a hard hit. He carried the ball 14 times for 37 yards and had four receptions for six yards before he came out.
ACU’s defense gave up 567 yards of offense but forced three turnovers in the loss. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle put up 439 yards of total offense and threw four touchdowns on the ACU secondary.
ACU returns home for a 10 day break between games. The Wildcats play their next game Sept. 6 at home against Northern Arizona.
“Right now, we need a win and we’re going to fight to get a win,” McKenzie said.