By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
It wasn’t pretty, but ACU got the job done on Saturday by holding off a dismal West Texas A&M team 35-31 in Shotwell Stadium. With the win, ACU (6-4 overall) secured its first winning season since 1997 and tied Texas A&M Kingsville for a share of the Lone Star Conference South Division title with a 5-1 mark.
The Wildcats prevailed in a game that had three lead changes, inclu-ding one toward the end of the game, when junior quarterback Colby Freeman hit freshman wideout for an 11-yard strike with 1:46 left to play in the game. The score capped off an 80-yard drive and proved to be the eventual game-winner.
“It was not our best performance,” Coach Gary Gaines said. “But we sure liked the end result.”
The Wildcats made some nearly crippling mistakes in the game, including approximately six dropped passes and defensive errors which led to touchdown runs of 61 and 78 yards by WTAM tailback Aubrey Lacy. Lacy finished with 194 yards against ACU.
Gaines said that the winless WTAM (0-11, 0-6) played like it had more motivation to get the victory than ACU did.
“We’ll give West Texas some credit,” Gaines said. “They’re a hungry team. They may have played their best game of the year Saturday, and they may have played with a little more emotion than we did.”
Even so, several Wildcat players had standout performances against the Buffaloes. Freeman threw for a career-high 378 yards, despite 19 of 41 passing and three interceptions. Junior tailback Eric Polk had 20 carries for 124 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while junior wide receiver Dillon Cobb caught five passes for 129 yards to lead ACU receivers.
“I’m glad we won,” Polk said. “We’re co-champs with Kingsville and we went out with a winning season, and that’s all that matters.”
In addition, Polk and the 13 seniors on the squad were able to end their respective ACU careers on a winning note.
“There’s no question that was a big deal for us,” Gaines said. “We wanted to send the seniors out with a win. That was special.”
Unfortunately, Polk ended on a fairly low note in the game. At the conclusion of his 66-yard reception which led to the eventual Wildcat score in the fourth quarter, Polk went down with a torn patella tendon. The Baytown native underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the tear.
“I was disappointed, but that’s the name of the game,” Polk said. “I’m still not gonna give up on football.”
Polk certainly didn’t give up during his two years at ACU. After transferring from Sam Houston State following his sophomore year, he came to ACU and proceeded to re-write the record books. Last season he broke the ACU single-season rushing record with 1,211 yards, and this year he finished with 898. Combined, he totaled 2,109 yards as a Wildcat, moving him to No. 7 on ACU’s career rushing chart.
“I’ve had a lot of good memories here,” Polk said. “I’ve made a lot of friends through football, and the coaches were like father figures to me.”
One of those, Gaines, said that all in all, the 2002 season was a good one.
“To win six of our last seven games is a step in the right direction,” he said. “That showed some nice resolve on our guys’ part.
“Next year we want to just continue our improvement,” he said. “The progress we made this year can be extended in 2003.”
To prepare for that, Gaines said players will begin a seven- to eight week offseason weight and conditioning program in a week or two, and spring football practice will kick off in March.