By Jared Fields, Sports Editor
Last week when the Wildcats needed a big play to get back into the game, Danieal Manning stepped up to the challenge. So when the team needed something this weekend against Northeastern State, it should be no surprise that Manning once again came through in the clutch.
Manning blocked a field goal and a punt that was returned for a touchdown to lead the Wildcats to a come-from-behind win in overtime on the road.
With 7:47 left in the game, the Wildcats trailed 14-0 when Manning blocked a punt and redshirt freshman Chris Morris returned the ball 20 yards for the team’s first score of the night.
“They hadn’t been kicking me the ball, so coach Headrick lined me up on the line to block it,” Manning said.
After the blocked punt return, the Wildcats held Northeastern State for two more possessions until they got the ball with 1:53 on their own 34 yard line.
Redshirt freshman Nick Bird, filling in for starting quarterback Billy Malone, who went out early in the second half with a concussion, completed three straight passes to sophomore Jerale Badon, whose last catch was a 46 yard touchdown pass that tied the game.
Before the overtime period began, the Wildcats won the toss, and forced Northeastern to have the first possession. Head coach Chris Thomsen said he felt like his team had an edge going into overtime.
“You feel like you’ve got momentum because you’ve scored 14 straight points, and the defense is playing pretty well,” Thomsen said. In fact, ACU’s defense allowed only 99 yards to Northeastern in the entire second half.
Northeastern’s first possession ended with a missed field goal from 36 yards away. On the Wildcats turn, Thomsen said he just wanted to run the ball until he put freshman kicker Matt Adams in to win the game. However, that didn’t happen.
Senior running back Rashon Myles ran the ball four times and advanced the ball to the 13 yard line before his final run in which he took the ball the rest of the way in for the game winning touchdown.
“That’s why I love our team,” Manning said. “Our guys just never give up.”
As dramatic as the end of the game was, the first half was not as smooth for the Wildcats’ offense. Myles and redshirt freshman Taber Minor each fumbled after big plays. Myles fumbled after a 33-yard run that crossed into NSU territory on the Wildcats second drive of the game. Minor caught a pass from Malone on the 15-yard line while the Wildcats were threatening to score, only to lose the ball to NSU after a fumble. Adams missed a 36-yard field goal as well, and the Wildcats went into the locker room down 14-0 at halftime.
Northeastern scored its first points on a drive that was kept alive by an ACU penalty on a punt play gave NSU a first down.
“You’re just going to have that stuff early in the season,” Thomsen said. “I think the more comfortable they get the better they’ll do. It just takes a little time to get comfortable with it.”
At the end of ACU’s first drive of the second half, Malone took a big hit to the side of the head and had to leave the game. Bird filled in and threw for 77 yards on 7-9 passing, including the game tying touchdown to Badon.
“He did pretty good, he made some plays,” Thomsen said of Bird’s performance.
Thomsen said that Malone should be back for this weekend’s game, but the team is still evaluating his condition.
“It’ll take some time to see how that goes,” Thomsen said.
After Malone’s departure, the Wildcat defense gave the team a spark when senior inside linebacker Marcus Brown forced a fumble that was smothered by senior defensive end Clayton Farrell late in the third quarter. The offense couldn’t capitalize on the play, but the defense continued to dominate in the in the remaining minutes of the game.
The Wildcats heart showed through in their play through the end of the game. Coach Thomsen notices the heart and attitude his team has.
“It comes from experience and leadership,” Thomsen said. “And also it comes from guys who can make good plays.”
Offensively, the Wildcats’ stat sheet looked decent. Badon caught six passes for 96 yards, and Myles rushed for 105 yards off of 16 carries. Combined, the two ACU quarterbacks had zero interceptions and 184 yards in the air.
Saturday the Wildcats return home to play Texas A&M-Commerce at 6 p.m.
“Here on out it’s going to be some tough games,” Manning said. “We have a chance to win a lot of games.”