By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Momentum. That’s what the Wildcats have after picking up three straight victories, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the 1999 season.
The most recent link in ACU’s momentum chain came on Saturday, when the Wildcats edged rival Angelo State 30-29 in their Homecoming matchup.
Angelo State had previously beaten the Wildcats in 22 of their previous 26 meetings, and had not lost to ACU since 1996. Last season, the Rams blanked the Cats 31-0 in San Angelo.
“It feels good beating them on Homecoming,” said kicker Eben Nelson, “especially after getting beat by those guys so bad last year.”
Nelson helped out ACU in a big way Saturday by connecting on three different field goal attempts, including his longest on the college level, a 51-yarder.
His 42-yard kick with 8:07 left to play turned out to be the game winner, making it the third week in a row in which the sophomore from Stephenville provided the game-deciding score.
As a result, Nelson won his second straight Lone Star Conference South special teams player-of-the-week award.
“I’m really excited I got it,” he said. “All I gotta do is keep making (field goals) and I hope we keep winning them. I think we will.”
Coach Gary Gaines said he was pleased with what he witnessed in the win.
“We were sure happy for our players to win the Homecoming game,” he said. “More importantly, it was a conference game. We did a lot of things well.”
Several Wildcat players contributed toward this. Junior quarterback Colby Freeman was also awarded weekly honors, as he received his second LSC South offensive player-of-the-week award on the season.
Freeman completed 23 of 30 passes (77 percent) for two touchdowns and a career-high 325 yards passing.
Senior running back Eric Polk had 30 carries for 127 yards rushing, his second straight game with 100+ yards.
To top it all off, three ACU receivers had 80 or more receiving yards on the day. Freshman Don Hooks, sophomore Dillon Cobb and sophomore Sneezy Beltran had totals of 99, 83 and 81 yards, respectively.
Polk said that the Wildcats’ many weapons have helped them to be more deadly this season. Last year, Polk was ACU’s main threat to opponents, running for 1,211 yards.
“The opposing defense has to key in on so many people this year,” Polk said. “Colby is having a heck of a year, and then you have Sneezy, Don, me and (junior wideout) DaRay (Sims) to worry about on top of that. The passing game has opened up the running game, and vice versa.”
On offense,the Wildcats had 20 plays of 10 or more yards in the game, and on defense they had three interceptions and a pair of sacks. Gaines said there were a lot of positive occurrences in the game, but he also said that the team still isn’t as sharp as it could be.
“The main thing I see going into the seventh game is there are still many ways we can improve ourselves,” he said. “We weren’t able to convert on some of our third downs where we could have kept their offense on the sidelines.”
Polk agreed, but said the team is rapidly gaining momentum to carry it through the season’s remaining four games.
“We’ve been playing good,” he said, “but I still think we can play better. We still have some left in the bag.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” Polk said of the winning streak. “The coaches are confident, the players are confident…we feel like can keep going out and getting the job done.”
Nelson said ACU’s momentum builder came with the Oct. 5 victory over Eastern New Mexico.
“We’ve just been waiting for a turnaround to happen,” he said, “and I think it happened at Eastern. We’ve got a lot more games to win this year.”
The next one the Wildcats hope to win is Saturday at LSC South opponent Midwestern State. ACU is 12-1 all-time against the Indians, who are currently in third place in the South with a 2-1 record (5-3 overall). In their last meeting in 1999, ACU knocked off MSU 26-16.
“It’ll be a battle,” Gaines said. “We need to be at our best this week, and we’re gonna spend this week making ourselves a better team in practice.”
The Cats and Indians square off in what also happens to be Midwestern State’s homecoming game.
“They’ve got an explosive offense and they’re a good team,” said Nelson, “but it would be great to beat them on their big day.”
The game begins at 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.