By Jared Fields, Sports Editor
Defense was the name of the game Saturday in Stephenville, where the Wildcats dominated the Tarleton State offense and left with an 18-7 win.
The Texans amounted only 167 total yards in the game and running back Derrick Ross, who ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said has NFL potential, was held to 79 yards on 24 carries.
“The defense obviously stepped up big,” Thomsen said. “Holding Derrick Ross for 79 yards-that was a big factor in the game. Our defensive coaches did a real good job with the plan, and the players executed.”
Leading the defense for the Wildcats was senior defensive end Clayton Farrell, with eight total tackles, four sacks and a safety.
Farrell’s safety came in the second quarter after a Chase Fishback punt pinned the Texans down at the six-yard line.
The game changed momentum on the Texans’ previous possession when Tarleton State threatened to take the lead. A facemask penalty against the Wildcats gave the Texans the ball with first-and-goal on the one-yard line.
On first down, the Wildcats stopped Ross for no gain, and on the next play, sophomore linebacker Cody Stutts intercepted a pass in the end zone to get the ball back for the Wildcats.
“Stutts making that play-it was huge,” Thomsen said.
For the Wildcats’ offense, freshman running back Taber Minner once again stepped up to fill in for the injured Rashon Myles. Minner out-performed his opponent with 31 carries for 158 yards and added 21 yards on three receptions. Minner scored the first touchdown for the Wildcats, a 16-yard run early in the second quarter, to take the lead, 10-7.
After Farrell’s safety gave the Wildcats a 12-7 lead, freshman kicker Matt Adams made field goals of 41 and 27 yards, stretching the lead to 18-7, which became the final score of the game.
The fourth quarter went scoreless for both teams, but an ACU punt attempt almost gave the Texans easy points.
The Wildcats were forced to punt from their own end zone, and the snap to punter Chase Fishback went wide to his left. Fishback caught the ball and tried to kick it away, but a defender was coming to block the kick. Fishback dodged the defender and then took off to run instead of kicking the ball, gaining 24 yards and a first down on the play.
“I was glad he ran it,” Thomsen said. “At first it was scary, but it opened up, and he saw it and took off. It was a great play.”
On the ensuing Texans drive, sophomore cornerback Corey Jordan intercepted a pass near mid-field that gave the Wildcats the ball and allowed the team to run out the clock.
While the ACU defense controlled the game, the offense performed just as well. The Wildcats ran 78 offensive plays and totaled 422 yards, evenly distributed with passing and rushing yards.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Billy Malone started the game but was replaced by another redshirt freshman, Nick Bird, in the beginning of the second quarter, who played the rest of the game. Bird put up good numbers off the bench, completing 16 of 23 passes for 192 yards.
Junior Mark Gaines continued to get rushing attempts for the Wildcats, gaining 33 yards on nine carries. Gaines began the year as a defensive back but has played offense in the past few games.
“He plays a very unselfish role on the team,” Thomsen said. “He may continue to get more carries; he’s a quality back.”
The Wildcats face Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday at Shotwell Stadium for the team’s final home game. The Javelinas won 26-14 over Eastern New Mexico and are still in the hunt for a playoff berth.
“They’re going to come up here with a lot of motivation,” Thomsen said. “After ACU beat them last year, they’ll be ready to play.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m., and will be the last home game for 17 seniors.
“Some of those guys have been around here and played a lot of football here,” Thomsen said. “Beating Kingsville would be a great deal for them.”