By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
When Midwestern State jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter of Saturday’s ACU Homecoming game, the Wildcats found themselves with their backs against the wall.
The feeling, however, was nothing new for the team.
“We had our backs against the wall going into it,” redshirt freshman safety Danieal Manning said. “We knew that if we lost, we probably wouldn’t have a chance at the playoffs.”
So, the team kept its composure and scored 18 unanswered points, sending the Indians home with just 223 yards of total offense-much less than their 364.3-per-game average.
“We never lost heart,” ACU head coach Gary Gaines said. “We knew it was a 60-minute game. It turned out our way, and we were pleased to win.”
Following a 76-yard drive, Midwestern drew first blood on a 6-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Rahsaan Bell to sophomore back Andre Kelsick.
“They came out wth the no-huddle offense and gassed us,” Manning said. “But once we got familiar with it, they couldn’t move the ball.”
ACU sophomore punter Chase Fishback helped the Cats win the field position battle. Fishback’s deep kicks forced MSU to start, on average, from its own 27-yard line. ACU’s average starting position, however, was its own 49-yard line.
Perhaps the biggest hero of the day, however, was junior placekicker Eben Nelson. When ACU’s offense would flounder, the Stephenville native would come in and save the drive. Nelson-kicking into the whipping West Texas wind for two of his tries-connected on 4 of 6 field goals, including a personal-best 53-yarder with the wind at his back.
“The wind was pretty brutal,” Nelson said. “I didn’t know how to judge it, really. I just aimed for the middle of the uprights and hoped it went in.
“The 53-yarder felt great,” he said. “I had hit a couple 65s before the game, so I knew I had it in me. I just had to line up and kick it like every other field goal.”
Gaines credited his two specialists with a big part of the victory.
“Eben’s 12 points were huge for us,” Gaines said. “Several of those kicks were out of range. Fishback pinned them deep with some of his punts and gave them a big field to work with. Our special teams were great Saturday.”
ACU’s lone touchdown came in the third quarter on a 2-yard run by junior running back Willie Williams that was set up by a fumble recovery by senior cornerback Kendrick Walker inside the MSU 10-yard line. Williams started for the second game in a row over senior Richard Whitaker, whose sprained ankle allowed him to play minimally against the Indians. Williams carried the ball 29 times for 81 yards.
Still, Gaines said he wasn’t 100 percent pleased with the victory.
“I was disappointed we didn’t do better offensively,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to them because they have a good defense, but we weren’t very efficient. We’ve still got some work to do in that area.”
The Wildcats are now 4-3 overall and 3-0 and in first place in the Lone Star Conference South Division. Texas A&M-Kingsville (6-1, 3-0) is the only other unbeaten team in the division.
ACU puts its flawless mark on the line again this Saturday at Texas A&M-Commerce against the 1-7 Lions. Last season, the Wildcats thumped TAMC, 47-6 at Shotwell Stadium.
“They have a lot of great talent,” Manning said. “They just haven’t had a great year. We just have to keep our composure the rest of the season. Our backs are still against the wall.”