By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Talk about drama.
Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division matchup at Shotwell Stadium with No. 3-ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville has plenty of it.
First, there’s the playoff question. ACU still can qualify for the postseason, but only if the Cats are ranked in the top four of the final Division II West Region Poll released Nov. 16. This week’s poll has ACU at No. 6 and Kingsville at No. 2. If 5-3 ACU knocks off 7-1 TAMUK this weekend, ACU has a good shot at vaulting into the top four, but if the Cats lose, their playoff chances are nil.
Second, there’s the division title question. Currently, the Wildcats and Javelinas are tied at 4-0 in the South. With both teams expected to win their final game next week, this weekend’s matchup most likely decides the division title. Last year, despite falling to the Javelinas 22-16 in the regular season, ACU shared the LSC South title with them.
Beating Kingsville should be no easy task for ACU, which hasn’t beaten TAMUK since a 38-24 win in 1983.
“This will be the best team we’ve faced all season,” ACU head coach Gary Gaines said. “They’re the most talented, they have the most team speed, the best quarterback, best running back and best secondary we’ve ever seen. They’re solid in all areas.”
The Javelinas run a balanced offense that runs and passes the ball almost equally. Junior running back Larry Williams leads the LSC in rushing yards per game, with 115.1, as well as 10 touchdowns. Meanwhile, junior quarterback Daniel Taylor is first in the LSC in pass efficiency, with a 175.2 rating. He also has 1,714 yards passing for 17 touchdowns this year.
“We’re pretty basic, pretty standard [on offense],” Kingsville head coach Richard Cundiff said. “We try not to be too frilly. If I had it my way, we’d be about 50-50 [run to pass] on Saturday.”
Kingsville’s defense, meanwhile, ranks third in the LSC (behind No. 2 ACU), allowing 291.2 yards per game. Senior middle linebacker Kenny Benoit leads the team in tackles with 71.
“This is the biggest game by far,” redshirt freshman safety Danieal Manning said. “This is our turning point; this will make or break us.”
The last issue preceding Saturday’s game is the quarterback question. Both junior Greg Wiggins and redshirt freshman Caleb Ensor were banged up pretty bad in last week’s 21-7 win at Texas A&M-Commerce. Wiggins left the game before halftime with a separated shoulder, and Ensor was knocked out late in the third quarter with a concussion. Wiggins came in for emergency work in the fourth quarter, but hasn’t thrown all week in practice because of a chip in his shoulder. As of Thursday, he’s doubtful for Saturday, and Ensor is out.
Thus, senior quarterback Colby Freeman makes an unexpected return to the starting spot for the big game, with freshman walk-on Brock Pierce as his backup. Freeman, who broke his left ulna bone in his non-throwing arm Oct. 18 at Angelo State, made the decision to play this week despite warnings from his bone doctor, Shannon Holloway.
“It’s not a recommended injury to play on,” said Freeman, who will sport a protective cast Saturday. “He told me I needed to understand the implications and left it in my hands. I really didn’t get cleared, but I’m gonna give it a shot.”
Freeman’s gutsy decision could result in an even worse break if he falls on the arm wrong, something he said could affect some in-game decisions.
“There’s no doubt I’m going to try to avoid certain situations,” Freeman said. “I’m sure if I’m on a run, I’ll be looking for the sidelines rather than lowering my shoulder and taking the hit.”
Also, the quarterback admits, he will be playing through a great deal of pain come game time.
“It’s gonna be painful,” Freeman said. “It’s a broken bone, and sometimes when it snags it really hurts. But we’re gonna try to get through it on Saturday.”
Senior tailback Richard Whitaker is listed as Saturday’s starter after running minimally the past few games while nursing an ankle injury. Also, senior wideouts DaRay Sims and Dillon Cobb should play after nagging injuries kept them out last week.
“We have to treat this like it’s our last game and come out fighting,” Manning said. “I’ve got a good feeling we can beat them. I know we can.”