By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
The ACU Wildcat football team maintained its spot atop the conference standings and became nationally ranked for the first time since 1997 after winning its third consecutive game by shutting out the Southwestern Oklahoma State Bulldogs 31-0 on Saturday.
The Wildcats are ranked in four of the nation’s Division II top 25 polls this week, with their highest ranking at No. 17 on collegesportsreport.com.
After a lackluster 7-point first half against Southwestern Oklahoma State Saturday, the challenge of protecting ACU’s undefeated record, and holding onto the Wildcats’ first shutout in 11 years lay on the shoulders of the defense.
Defenders met that challenge after shutting down the Southwestern Oklahoma offense and opening the door for a 24-point second half offensive explosion that resulted in ACU’s first 3-0 start since 1993.
“Defense was the story tonight,” head coach Chris Thomsen said after the game. “They really kept us in the game and helped our offense get going in the second half.”
On the heels of defeating nationally ranked Southeastern Oklahoma State for the first time since 1929 with a 51-14 thrashing Sept. 16, the Wildcats continued their history-defying season by pitching their first shutout since Prairie View A&M in 1995.
Key turnovers and the resulting field position facilitated the majority of ACU’s 24-point second half offensive attack. Free-safety Landon Kinchen led with way late in the third quarter by blocking Bulldogs’ punt Spenser Daniel and handing the Wildcats the ball at the Southwestern 10-yard line.
Running back Taber Minner converted the block into a touchdown after he rammed the ball through the Southwestern defensive line for the Wildcats’ second score and only rushing touchdown of the night.
“The punt block in the second half is what really got us going,” Thomsen said. “Our special teams’ scheme helped us turn that into a huge play.”
ACU’s defense continued to create offensive opportunities after defensive end Jason Miller recovered a fumble forced by defensive lineman Jacob Passmore on the Bulldogs’ 23-yard line
Wide receiver Chris Morris capitalized on the turnover after converting a short pass from quarterback Billy Malone into a 17-yard touchdown.
Malone’s touchdown pass to Morris was his second of the night after connecting with fullback Chris Conklin in the second quarter.
Southwestern’s only threat to the Wildcats’ commanding lead came halfway through the fourth quarter.
After making it to the Wildcats’ 35-yard line, Southwestern players shot themselves in the foot once more after ACU cornerback Corey Jordan intercepted a pass from quarterback Jimmy Sangster and ran back 76 yards for the Wildcats’ final touchdown of the game.
“It felt great to not only run back the interception, but see all my teammates blocking for me,” Jordan said.
ACU held Southwestern to only 196 total yards, forced three fumbles and eight punts and recorded three sacks in the game.
The Wildcats’ undefeated record and newly aquired national ranking will be on the line once more Saturday when they travel to Blackwater Draw, N.M., to take on south division rivals Eastern New Mexico.