By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
The ACU football team sent its seniors off on a positive note with a 34-27 win at Lone Star Conference South Division opponent West Texas A&M Saturday.
The win gave ACU (6-4 overall, 5-1 LSC South) back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1996 and 1997.
“It was a good win,” head coach Gary Gaines said. “It was a good way to finish up the season.”
ACU held on to a 17-3 halftime lead before WTAM senior quarterback Derek Maupin led the Buffaloes on a second-half offensive tear. Maupin led his team on three straight touchdown drives in the third quarter to take a 24-17 lead, forcing ACU to come back for the eventual victory.
“They got hot in the second half and made some big plays on us,” Gaines said. “We tried to keep Maupin from getting too many big plays, but when you throw the ball 50 times, you’re gonna pick up some yardage.”
Senior running back Richard Whitaker finished his collegiate career in style, rushing for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Whitaker said he was glad to end his career on a high note after sitting out four games this season with an ankle injury.
“It was real hard sitting out those games,” he said. “I wanted to come back and finish out strong, and I was pleased with the play calls. The linemen did their job, and it worked out O.K. for me.”
Senior quarterback Colby Freeman finished his college career with 13 for 25 passing, 229 yards and one touchdown, while redshirt freshman safety Danieal Manning came in at wideout and recorded three catches for 126 yards and one touchdown.
Junior kicker Eben Nelson scored 10 points, including a 47-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Gaines said the seniors leaving the team will be greatly missed.
“They’ve meant a lot to our program,” he said. “Seven of them were here in 2000, and they’ve been instrumental in getting our program headed in the right direction.”
Senior offensive lineman Britt Lively said he would have liked to make the playoffs, but was happy to help the Cats notch two successful seasons.
“When I transferred here, my dream was to help this team come to the playoffs,” Lively said. “It was hard on me as a senior to not get there, but it’s been fun playing at ACU, and the ending was great.”
Lively said he takes pride in knowing he was part of the program that will raise the bar even higher in 2004.
“This team’s going to be better in the next couple years,” he said. “Coach Gaines has done a heck of a job building this program right. It’s going to be a great program for a long time now.”