By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
It’s funny how things keep coming back around. Two seasons ago, the ACU football team lost six games because of special teams blunders. On Sat-urday, the Wildcats won a game because of special teams efficiency.
In the process, the Cats knocked off Eastern New Mexico, a team that was 4-0, tops in the Lone Star Conference South Division and ranked No. 25 in Division II. ACU improved to 1-3 overall and 1-0 in the LSC South with the 20-19 victory, highlighted by a game-winning 49-yard field goal by sophomore Eben Nelson with four seconds remaining to ice the game.
“We were really happy for our players,” Coach Gary Gaines said. “It was an exciting game. Special teams really came into play and turned out to be the difference in the game.”
In addition to Nelson’s heroics, the special teams prowess was shown by junior Brad Walton and senior Barrett Allen, who on separate occasions blocked ENM extra point attempts which could have tied or even won the game for the Greyhounds.
“Those are really what won the game for us,” said Nelson of the blocks.
But on paper, Nelson did. He connected from 29 yards out earlier in the game, but said the 49-yarder felt the best.
“Right when I kicked it I knew it was going through,” he said. “I love kicking game-winning field goals.”
Nelson said he had wanted to make up for a missed field goal that would have tied Tarleton State in a 12-9 loss at on Sept. 21.
“I don’t like missing, and I felt like the Tarleton loss was on my shoulders,” he said. “I really wanted to redeem myself on Saturday.”
Junior quarterback Colby Freeman had a strong game for ACU as well. The Brownwood native led the team in both rushing and passing, with 68 and 202 yards, respectively. He also led a 43-yard drive with 1:13 remaining to put ACU in field goal range.
“They did a great job on that last drive,” Gaines said. “They did the things they needed to do with little time on the clock.”
Junior wide receiver DaRay Sims led the team in receiving with five catches for 96 yards, while junior running back Eric Polk had 12 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown score. The Wild-cat defense was also impressive, holding scrambling ENM quarterback Heath Ri-denour to 41 yards, opposed to his game-average 79.
Gaines said the attitudes in the locker room following the game were soaring.
“They were ecstatic,” he said, “and that would be an understatement. I think it’ll boost our confidence for sure.”
Despite having lost their first three games of the season, the Wildcats have now found themselves tied with Texas A&M-Kingsville and Angelo State for a three-way share of first place in their division.
“We’ve just been waiting for the first win to turn the tables,” Nelson said. “Now that it’s under our belts, we know we can beat any team in our conference.”
“It gives us a new mindset and a positive feeling,” he said. “We know it’s gonna be a dogfight every game we play. We just need to get our thoughts off the last one and focus on the next.”
ACU plays host to Central Oklahoma on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Shotwell Stadium.