By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
No. 12 ACU couldn’t overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and dropped its first Lone Star Conference South Division game with a 41-31 loss to No. 6 West Texas A&M on Saturday.
The loss dropped ACU’s record to 6-2 overall and 2-1 in Lone Star Conference play and may have hurt the Wildcats chances to make the NCAA Division II playoffs – ACU is currently ranked No. 7 in the South Central Regional Poll and needs to be in the top six for a playoff spot.
“It hurts to lose,” said senior cornerback Corey Jordan. “But it’s the LSC, the race is never done; all we got to do is come back next week and win.”
ACU will face Tarleton State in Stephenville next Saturday. Tarleton was going into its 6 p.m. game against Eastern New Mexico undefeated.
West Texas A&M remained undefeated in LSC play and overall. The Buffs now have an 8-0 overall record and are 6-0 in LSC play.
In a game that was plagued with penalties – West Texas had 18 penalties for 126 yards lost and ACU had 12 penalties for 97 yards lost – the Wildcats came within one touchdown of the Buffs until West Texas kicker Jon Roberts made it a two-possession game and gave West Texas a 10-point lead with 3:34 left on the clock. ACU drove down the field to the West Texas 39-yard line, but any chance of a comeback was nixed when West Texas safety Kyle Seals picked off junior quarterback Billy Malone.
“Only thing I can say is you got to give credit to West Texas, their guys came in and made plays,” head coach Chris Thomsen said.
West Texas racked up a total of 511 yards and five touchdowns in their eighth-straight win of the season. Buffs’ quarterback Keith Null threw a touchdown to four different receivers and finished the day with 360 passing yards.
West Texas tight end Kolo Kapanui led the Buffs in receiving after a career high day in which he caught six passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the disappointing loss, Thomsen said he is confident this will not affect his team’s performance against Tarleton next week.
“We’ve got some good senior leadership and we’re gonna continue to prepare every week just like you do with every game,” Thomsen said.
ACU started the scoring when junior running back Bernard Scott put the Wildcats up 7-0 in the first quarter with a 4-yard carry.
ACU got the ball right back after senior defensive end Julian Humble sacked Null and forced a fumble that was recovered by freshman defensive end Bryson Lewis on the West Texas one-yard line. But despite the good field position, ACU was unable to get in the end zone and had to settle for a 20-yard field goal from junior placekicker Matt Adams.
Null found a wide-open Charly Martin in the end zone at the end of the first quarter for a 9-yard touchdown and Kapanui rammed his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion to drop ACU’s lead to 10-8 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, ACU lost its early lead when West Texas regained possession of the ball when Chasmin Thomas intercepted a Malone pass, and much like ACU in the first quarter, capitalized off the defensive play by scoring another touchdown, this time a 12-yard catch by Dale Davis to put the Buffs ahead 15-10.
West Texas’ offense continued to roll and scored their third touchdown of the game with 8:24 left in the second quarter as Kapanui broke two tackles and skipped into the end zone to extend West Texas’ lead to 22-10.
Junior wide receiver Johnny Knox gave life to ACU’s offense after his speed and juking ability turned a short catch into a 60-yard reception that put ACU only two yards away from a touchdown. Scott scored that touchdown and Adams put away the extra point to reduce West Texas’ lead to 22-17.
In the closing minutes of the second quarter and force West Texas to settle for a field goal that pushed its lead to 25-17 with 2:32 left in the first half.
West Texas continued to build on its lead with a field goal with 2:32 left in the first half and a touchdown from Flemming to put the Buffs up 31-17 at halftime.
Scott scored his third touchdown of the game to bring West Texas’ lead to 31-24 at the beginning of the third quarter, but that’s where the scoring stopped.
Both defenses did not concede another score until 12:49 in the fourth quarter when West Texas extended it’s lead to 38-24 after Null connected with A.J. Ruffins for a 4-yard score.
With 8:58 remaining in the game ACU came within one touchdown again, 38-31, when Malone connected with a wide-open Knox for a 37-yard touchdown. But despite the big play, ACU couldn’t garner any offensive production in the closing moments of the fourth quarter.
“Great team’s always come back from losses,” Jordan said. “When you lose it’s not over.”