By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
The Wildcat football team faces yet another daunting task this weekend when it travels to Edmond, Okla., to take on Lone Star Conference North opponent Central Oklahoma.
The Bronchos (5-0, 1-0) are ranked No. 13 in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll a season after finishing with a dismal 3-8 record.
“There’s a reason they’re ranked 13th,” ACU head coach Gary Gaines said. “They are a physical football team. They have a strong running game, and I’ve been really impressed with their defensive game, also.”
The Bronchos ranked seventh in total offense in the 13-team conference, averaging 351 yards through five games. Their defense is No. 6 in the LSC, surrendering 311.8 a game.
ACU, comparatively, ranks ahead of UCO at No. 6 in total offense with 354.2 yards a game, while giving up 345.2 yards a game (10th) on defense.
Central Oklahoma’s top performer is senior wideout Dee Dee Carter (6-1, 186). Carter-who already owns school career records for receptions (143) and yards (2,841)-has 13 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns this year. Carter’s deadliness, however, has led to opponents’ double teams, allowing freshman flanker Zach Edwards to get free for 24 catches, 376 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Erick Johnson hasn’t minded, having completed 33 of 51 passes for 469 yards and six TDs.
The Bronchos’ rushing game has thrived also, with junior tailback Jarrod Manoy gaining 490 yards on 107 carries for four scores.
“Dee Dee Carter’s definitely a big-play threat in their passing game,” said Gaines, “but they have several weapons.”
At least one ACU player has established himself as a weapon. Sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Hardman stepped up after senior receiver DaRay Sims went down with a sprained ankle against Tarleton State Sept. 20. In last week’s 24-14 win over Eastern New Mexico, Hardman caught three balls for 102 yards and a touchdown. He has nine receptions for 211 yards and two scores on the year.
“We started seeing what he was capable of in the [Sept. 13] Fort Lewis game in terms of speed and receiving ability,” Gaines said. “He’s a playmaker and he’s gotten better every week. We’ve had to come up with more schemes to get the ball in his hands.”
Senior linebacker Cliff Compton, who is No. 2 for ACU with 33 tackles on the year, said he hopes the win over ENMU gives the Cats the spark they need for a win streak.
“Anytime you beat a ranked team and win your first conference game, you hope it gets you on the roll you’re looking for,” he said.
“What I told our players the other day was the most positive thing about the Eastern New Mexico game was it only grazed the surface of our ability,” he said. “There’s so much more we can do and we can be so much better.”
Gaines said the injury statuses of Sims, senior wide receiver Tony Cunningham (hamstring) and junior linebacker Shawn Taylor (strained MCL) are up in the air for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at UCO.
“We need all those guys but we need them healthy more,” he said.
Compton said that at this point in the season, he is not happy with where the Wildcats are.
“Every week we look at film and see so many things we can improve,” he said. “I won’t be happy until we have minimal mistakes and can consistently win games by 21 points.”