By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
The ACU football team may have lost 31-17 to Central Arkansas on Saturday but was still able to see how it stood up to the No. 15-ranked team.
The Wildcat’s 17-point deficit at the final whistle Saturday was a drastically different outcome from last season’s 49-point loss to UCA.
“We made some progress over where we started last year,” said coach Gary Gaines, “but we are not happy with a loss.”
The Bears jumped to a 28-7 halftime lead at Shotwell Stadium, giving them enough cushion to allow for ACU’s 10-3 second half advantage.
The Wildcats had a scary moment in the second quarter, when senior quarterback Colby Freeman went down with a knee injury. Freeman underwent an MRI on Sunday which revealed a first-degree sprain of his left medial collateral ligament. He is listed as day-to-day.
Freeman’s absence combined with mental mistakes turned out to be the team’s downfall.
“The effort was definitely there,” said senior fullback Braughn Curtis, “but the mental mistakes cost us.”
Curtis said some of the visible mental errors included missed snap counts, missed blocks and fumbles. The Cats had five fumbles, two which were recovered by the Bears, and had three turnovers.
“The turnovers and the penalties were devastating to us,” Gaines said. “They negated some opportunities to score points.”
On the positive side, ACU displayed the dominance it boasts in the running game and on special teams. Junior running back Eric Polk, who holds the school single-season rushing record, carried the ball 24 times for 129 yards. Junior wide receiver DaRay Sims compiled several solid kickoff returns, including a 95-yard score off UCA’s first kick.
Curtis said he noticed several of the team’s positive changes in Saturday’s loss.
“A lot of times last year we knew in our heads that we were going to lose games so we didn’t play as hard the rest of the game,” he said. “But on Saturday we were down at the half and nobody gave up for the rest of the game. We still knew in our heads that we were gonna win.”
ACU’s record is 0-1. The Cats travel to No.6 UC-Davis at 8 p.m. (6 p.m. PDT) on Saturday.