By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Back-to-back game-winning field goals by Eben Nelson on Saturday translated into back-to-back ACU wins for the first time since the 1999 season.
The Wildcats’ 22-20 victory over Central Oklahoma in Shotwell Stadium came a week after a 20-19 win at Eastern New Mexico. Nelson, the sophomore crunch-time kicker from Stephenville, nailed a 49-yard field goal with four seconds on the clock to edge ENM last week; he sent a 36-yarder through the uprights with 2:33 remaining to knock off the Bronchos this week.
“It was another clutch performance by Eben,” Coach Gary Gaines said. “We’re all excited. We’re proud of our players after that game. It was important that we never lost our faith; every one of them expected to win in the end.”
With the victory, ACU ups its record to 2-3 overall, while staying at 1-0 in the Lone Star Conference South. Central Oklahoma falls to 3-3 overall, 0-1 in the LSC North.
As a team, ACU had its best rushing performance of the season, with 146 yards gained on the ground. Senior running back Eric Polk led the charge with 111 yards, his season high. The Cats also racked up 418 yards of total offense, well above their previous per-game average of 282.2 offensive yards.
Junior quarterback Colby Freeman completed 18 of 28 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions against the Bronchos. Freshman wide receiver Don Hooks caught three Freeman passes for 98 receiving yards and one touchdown.
“We played really well offensively,” Gaines said. “Polk ran really hard, and we came up with some big plays.”
UCO had some big plays of its own, while Jason Phenix rushed for 107 yards and all-America wide receiver Dee Dee Carter caught 10 passes for 151 yards. But ACU’s defense was able to come up in the clutch, as junior linebacker Larry Conway picked off UCO quarterback Erick Johnson’s pass with 47 seconds remaining to seal the deal for the Cats.
“It wasn’t our best defensive effort,” Gaines said. “They used their power running, and Carter had a great game. We just made the play at the end which gave us a chance to hang on.”
ACU made a few mistakes in the game, including 12 penalties for 76 yards, a missed extra point and the two Freeman picks.
“I definitely think we played hard, but we can play better,” Gaines said. “Those penalties and things hurt us, but when you can win and have those things to overcome, it’s positive.”
However, Gaines said, the Cats have more improving to do the remainder of the season.
“I think we will play better,” he said. “We’ll be working on some specific things, like stopping some of the big plays they’ve had.”
ACU stays at home this Saturday for its Homecoming game against LSC South rival Angelo State. The Cats and the Rams will square off in Shotwell Stadium at 2 p.m.