By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
The playoffs are out of the picture, but a winning season is not. The 5-4 football team will take this mindset into its final game Saturday against winless Lone Star Conference South opponent West Texas A&M.
ACU plays host to the Buffaloes a week after a heartbreaking 22-16 loss to Texas A&M-Kingsville that prevented the Cats from qualifying for the NCAA Division II playoffs. Now all the team has left to play for is a share of the LSC South championship and its first winning season since 1997.
Head coach Gary Gaines said the Cats should still play hard even with less to play for
“I hope we don’t slack,” head coach Gary Gaines said. “One of the dangers of this sport is underestimating an opponent. We hope the players are mature enough to get up for this game just like they did for Kingsville.”
The Wildcats, who at 4-1 are tied for first in the South with Kingsville, take on a WTAM team that is 0-10 overall and 0-7 in the South. WTAM ranks last in the conference in team defense, allowing 434.7 yards a game, and 10th of 13 in total offense, racking up 288.8 yards each game.
“They’re a young team,” Gaines said, “and they’re playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. They’re well-coached and play hard, but they just don’t have the experience a lot of teams do. They haven’t quit yet this year.”
Which, he said, makes them a worthy opponent.
“I think they’re dangerous,” Gaines said. “They’re a capable, hungry football team searching for wins. I think our desire to win needs to be greater than theirs.”
And, according to junior quarterback Colby Freeman, the desire will be there on game day.
“I think we’ll wanna win this game just as much as any other game, if not more,” Freeman said. “We still have a lot to look forward to.”
For the 11 seniors on this year’s team, Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Shotwell Stadium will mark their last in a Wildcat uniform.
“It’ll be their last game at Shotwell,” Freeman said. “We want to win for them so they can end their careers on a winning note.”
Last year, ACU knocked off West Texas 24-21 in the final game of the season. The average score in the teams’ last eight meetings is ACU 26, WTAM 25. The player the Wildcats will have to watch Saturday is the Buffaloes’ all-LSC South linebacker Chaun Thompson. A 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior, Thompson leads his team in tackles (99) and interceptions (2), and is currently being scouted by several NFL teams.
But ACU has its share of standouts to sport in its last game. Freeman has thrown for 1,715 yards on the season with 10 touchdowns and a 57 percent completion rate.
All-LSC South running back Eric Polk has 774 yards and six touchdowns to date, and freshman wide receiver Don Hooks has had a big impact for ACU with the team’s lead in receiving yards (440) and touchdowns (4). Defensively, sophomore linebacker Shawn Taylor leads the Cats with 82 tackles.
“These players are committed to having a 6-4 season,” Gaines said. “I think we’ve seen gradual, steady improvement this year. We have a unified and an unselfish team, and those are important traits for success.”
Freeman agreed and said he hopes to see plenty of fan support in Saturday’s season finale.
“I hope us losing last week won’t affect the attendance this week,” Freeman said. “The seniors deserve a big day because they have a whole lot to be proud of. I hope we continue to build support throughout the school.”