By Jared Fields, Sports Editor
Once again, costly mistakes and turnovers allowed West Texas A&M more than enough opportunities to give the Wildcats a Homecoming loss in front of 10,000 fans at Shotwell Stadium on Saturday.
The Wildcats’ 40-24 loss was their fourth in a row and drops the team to 2-5 on the year, 2-4 in Lone Star Conference play.
Two key plays kept the Wildcats from gaining any momentum and keeping the game closer.
Before the half, ACU had the ball in its territory and was trying to get the ball into field goal range. Quarterback Billy Malone checked down to his running back, freshman Taber Minner, and threw a short pass intended for Minner. However, Malone’s pass was intercepted at the line of scrimmage by Buffaloes linebacker, Max Steward, and ran back 52 yards for a touchdown, which gave the Buffaloes a 26-14 lead going into the half.
“I felt like the momentum had shifted to them,” head coach Chris Thomsen said. “I was just trying to get some of that back. There are sometimes where you’ve got to cut your losses and go in at the half: and I didn’t do that.”
In another attempt to steal some momentum, Thomsen called a risky play on a kickoff return.
Jerale Badon took the kickoff and took the ball up the right side of the field. He then stopped, turned to the opposite side of the field and threw the ball across to Danieal Manning in hopes of catching the Buffaloes off guard.
It didn’t work.
Buffaloes special teams player Brian Cooper intercepted the ball on the run and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.
“I’m supposed to come in and fake like I fell, pop up, and they throw the ball to me,” Manning said. “But they played it, they stayed in their lanes, and that was a good play by them.”
Again, an aggressive play call backfired on the Wildcats.
“Sometimes you try to force things with [Danieal], and people know you’re going to do those things,” Thomsen said. “One of those you wish you could take back but can’t.”
While the passing game was ineffective all day, Taber Minner stepped up for the Wildcats with senior Rashon Myles out of the game with an ankle sprain.
Minner had 12 rushes for 61 yards, his long being a 42-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches, and six receptions for 48 yards.
“He’s a kid that makes plays, in the passing game and in the running game,” Thomsen said. “He’s only going to get better.”
Minner wasn’t as pleased with his performance after the loss, however.
“It’s good and everything, but if we don’t win, then I don’t really care about everything else,” Minner said after the game. “We’ve got to win. Nothing else matters.”
After two weeks in a row of 300-yard passing games, the Buffalo defense held Billy Malone to only 129 yards.
“Part of it is their defense,” Thomsen said of the passing game. “I’d say their pressure got to us a little bit, with their blitz game.”
For the first time since the Eastern New Mexico game, Danieal Manning registered a punt return Manning returned two punts for a total of 30 yards. Manning’s last return ended with him being tackled in the end zone for a safety.
“They were trying to kick it out of bounds, they just didn’t hit it right,” Thomsen said. “Probably scared them to death.”
Besides Manning’s normal duties on special teams and defense, Thomsen worked Manning in some offensive plays as well.
“He probably played 110 snaps of football,” Thomsen said. “He’s worn out right now; we gave him the day off [Sunday].”
This week’s game
This week the Wildcats travel to Stephenville to play the No. 22 Tarleton State Texans. The Texans are 6-1 this year, their only loss coming against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Last week Tarleton State defeated a tough Eastern New Mexico team 34-27 on the road. The Texans also picked up co-offensive and co-defensive player of the week honors in the LSC South Division.
Renardrick Phillips gained co-defensive honors from his defensive back position with 16 total tackles, of which six were for a loss.
Offensively, senior running back Derrick Ross was recognized as the co-offensive player of the week with 212 rushing yards, four touchdowns and an average of 7.9 yards per carry.
Thomsen said the team is solid all around.
“Their secondary is big and physical, and they’ve got a running back who led the league in rushing last year. Derrick Ross-he’ll be an NFL player,” Thomsen said. “They’ll be good, you don’t get any breaks in this league.”
After missing last week’s game, Thomsen said Rashon Myles should be ready for the game against Tarleton State. The Wildcats will be without starting outside linebacker Brandon Henry, who tore his ACL Saturday against West Texas A&M. Sophomore Travis Carpenter will step up into Henry’s role this week.
The Wildcats and Texans kickoff at 2 p.m. in Stephenville, and the Wildcats return for their last home game Oct. 29, against Texas A&M-Kingsville.