By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
The ACU football team attempts to salvage a winning season when it faces Lone Star Conference South Division opponent West Texas A&M (3-7, 2-3 LSC South) in a 2 p.m. showdown Saturday at Kimbrough Stadium in Canyon.
Although the Wildcats’ playoff hopes dissolved last week after a 10-7 loss to division leader Texas A&M-Kingsville, head coach Gary Gaines said his players remain in good spirits.
“The attitudes seem good,” he said. “We’d like to send our 17 seniors out with a win; we hope that serves as motivation for them and for our younger guys also.”
Senior quarterback Colby Freeman, who played with a broken arm in last week’s game and will start again this week, said the team’s motivation also comes from a desire to be a winning team.
“Coach Gaines really challenged us to either lay down or fight back,” Freeman said. “We want to finish 6-4, not 5-5. That’s a big difference.
“Everybody’s ready to move on from last week,” he said. “There’s no way to remove the bitter taste from our mouths, but we want to come back and end the year on a good note.”
Doing so requires taking out West Texas A&M, a team that has struggled this season. ACU holds a 21-13 edge in the series against the Buffaloes, which dates back to 1921. However, 11 of the last 18 meetings between the teams have been decided by seven points or less. Last season, the Cats were able to salvage a winning season when they edged WTAM 35-31 in the season finale at Shotwell Stadium.
West Texas A&M relies heavily upon its passing game, which ranks second in the LSC with 260.6 yards per game. Junior quarterback Derek Maupin ranks second in the conference in passing yards per game (249.8) and third in total offense per game (275.8). He has thrown for 14 touchdowns and 2,498 total yards.
Maupin tends to throw to a variety of receivers. In last week’s 49-23 win over Eastern New Mexico, he hit seven different targets for 324 yards. Junior wideout Anthony Armstrong leads the team with 43 catches for 596 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman wideout Cheyenne Smith ranks second with 40 receptions, 459 yards and two scores.
“They have an offense similar to Texas Tech,” Gaines said. “They average about 50 passes a game, but the most amazing statistic is they’ve only been sacked 10 times. We’re going to have to mix things up and change up our rushes and coverages to some degree.”
The Buffaloes’ pass-oriented offense will have to take on a Wildcat defense that ranks first in the conference in pass defense, allowing just 157.6 yards per game and nine touchdowns. ACU’s defense is second in total defense with 285.6 yards allowed per game and first in scoring defense, surrendering only 18.1 points per game.
Junior linebacker Randall Webb anchors ACU’s defense with 90 tackles and 3.5 sacks, while senior linebacker Cliff Compton is second in tackles with 69.
ACU’s offense, meanwhile, needs to buck up if the Cats plan on winning Saturday. Since Freeman was injured Oct. 18 against Angelo State, the offense has managed just 41 points on 47 possessions and has dropped from third to 10th in total offense with 293.4 yards per game.
However, Freeman affirmed, the team’s spark will return for the final game with motivation turning the team’s gears.
“We’re gonna finish this year like we have nothing to lose,” Freeman said. “For a lot of us, it’s our last game at ACU, and that’s a pretty meaningful thing.”