By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
On paper, the ACU football team is solid in Homecoming games. Since 1920, the Wildcats have gone 46-28-1 in the 75 Homecoming games they’ve played. On emotion, however, ACU is always sky-high come Homecoming game day.
On Saturday, ACU welcomes Lone Star Conference South Division rival Midwestern State to Shotwell Stadium for a Homecoming match up that pits the 5-2 Indians (2-1 LSC South) against the 3-3 Wildcats (2-0) and their fans.
“There’s a little more excitement on Homecoming,” ACU head coach Gary Gaines said. “We typically have a great crowd for the game, and we hope there’s some electricity in the stands.”
Junior quarterback Greg Wiggins agreed.
“Any time you’ve got a game with a bunch of alumni and other people in the stands, it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting for me, and it’s exciting for our whole team.”
Not only is it exciting, but also much more pressure-free.
“It’s always easier to play in front of a bunch of fans,” senior offensive tackle Britt Lively said. “The emotions are always running high during these games.”
The Cats will have to use it to their advantage against Midwestern, a team notorious for jumping on opponents early. This season, the Indians have outscored opponents 127-40 in the first half.
Gaines said MSU’s main characteristic is “speed No. 1.” The team uses this in its running game, which ranks second in the LSC with 193.7 yards per game. Sophomore tailback Jerrold Fuqua leads the attack with 419 yards on 92 attempts and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Phillip Boggs is close behind with 369 yards and three scores.
Boggs is a double threat for the Indians, having passed for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns this season. His main target has been senior wideout Terrance Moore, who has 18 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
“Phillip Boggs is a great athletic quarterback,” Gaines said. “[The Indians] hang their head on the running game, but they also have very good wide receivers. They won’t be one-dimensional by any means.”
MSU’s defense is led by junior linebacker Kevin Taulton and senior linebacker Al Sullivan, who each have 55 and 47 tackles this season, respectively.
“Midwestern is very athletic and fast,” Lively said. “I’m going to have to keep my eyes up because they move a lot up front. I need to push.”
Despite the MSU hype, however, Wiggins said ACU will have to play them some time.
“They represent a formidable challenge for us,” Wiggins said. “But if we’re gonna get a chance at a South zone championship, we might as well welcome them in on a big stage. If anything, it’s more of a home-field advantage for us.”
Wiggins, who will start the Homecoming game in place of injured starter senior Colby Freeman, said the Cats will have to run the ball well to come away with a victory.
“They do a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage up front,” Wiggins said. “I think this game is all dependant on how effective our run game is. If we develop a solid run game, then we’ll be able to get the passing game going too.”
The success of the Wildcats’ run could hinge on the health of senior running back Richard Whitaker. Whitaker leads the team in rushing with 450 yards on 86 carries with three touchdowns, but sat out last week’s game at Angelo State with a sprained ankle he received Oct. 11 at Central Oklahoma. Whitaker is listed as “probable” for Saturday, but that doesn’t mean he won’t split snaps with junior Willie Williams. In Whitaker’s absence, Williams rushed for 172 yards and one touchdown.
Wiggins-making his first start since Nov. 10, 2001-is 9 of 12 passing this season for 132 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt freshman Caleb Ensor will be his backup on Saturday.
Junior Dillon Cobb leads the ACU receiving corps this year with 14 catches for 236 yards and one touchdown, while sophomore Lawrence Hardman has 11 catches for 257 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, junior linebacker Randall Webb continues to dominate, leading the Cats with 63 tackles. His average of 10.5 tackles a game is second in the entire LSC.
Going into the Homecoming game, Gaines said his biggest concern on offense is running the football and his biggest defensive concern is stopping the running game. However, he said remembering that the Homecoming game is simply the next game on the schedule is above all.
“Players enjoy Homecoming and that’s nice,” he said. “But this is the next game in our schedule. We have to win it, and that’s what’s on our minds.”
The Wildcats had lost four straight Homecoming contests before last season’s 30-29 victory over Angelo State, but perhaps they can find reassurance in another statistic: Midwestern State’s all-time record against ACU is 1-13.
Saturday’s kickoff is 2 p.m. at Shotwell Stadium, preceded by a pre-game party at noon.