By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
What goes up must come down. The Wildcats found this to be true Saturday when a 22-16 loss to Texas A&M-Kingsville snapped their five game winning streak, as well as a bid to the Division II playoffs.
ACU needed to be one of the top four teams in the West Region Poll to qualify for the postseason. The Cats, who are currently ranked No. 9 in the region, would need to jump five spots to get there, an unlikely occurrence considering they play last-place West Texas A&M in their final game on Saturday.
Sophomore placekicker Eben Nelson said the locker room atmosphere was similar to that of a funeral following the game.
“It was really somber,” Nelson said. “We were and still are bummed out. That was our chance to win the LSC.”
Indeed, the Cats (5-4, 4-1 LSC South) can no longer win the conference title outright, but can only hope to win a share of the title with a win over WTAM Saturday.
“There’s no doubt that we’re extremely disappointed,” ACU Coach Gary Gaines said. “We put a lot into that game and went down there with the attitude of winning it, and we just came up a few points short.”
Kingsville carried a 19-3 advantage going in to the fourth quarter, but ACU outscored the Javelinas 13-3 in the final stanza to narrow the margin of defeat. Gaines said ACU’s defense and special teams were superb throughout the game, but 10 penalties and three turnovers plagued the team in the end.
“We had an outstanding effort overall,” Gaines said. “We made some mistakes, but we’ve gotta give Kingsville credit, too. They played a solid football game against us.”
Kingsville’s junior running back Larry Williams racked up 148 yards and a touchdown in the game, while ACU senior standout Eric Polk was only able to muster 44 yards on the ground. On the flip side, junior quarterback Colby Freeman had a solid game for ACU, completing 15 of 29 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown in the game. Freshman wideout Don Hooks helped his cause with four catches for 121 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
“We know it’s a hard loss, but hopefully we’ll put it in the past and go out and beat West Texas on Saturday,” Nelson said.
A Wildcat victory on Saturday would still mean a winning season at 6-4, something ACU hasn’t had since a 7-4 mark in the 1997 season.
“We talked on Sunday and we think that 6-4 sounds a lot better to us than 5-5,” Gaines said. “I think we’ve got some incentive and some motivation, and I’d be disappointed if we didn’t play really well on Saturday.”
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. in Shotwell Stadium.