By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Daniel Polk’s final college game could have been his best.
By the fourth quarter of ACU’s regular season finale Saturday, the Midwestern State quarterback had already broken two school rushing records, a single-season touchdown record and was on his way to a 300-yard rushing game.
But after an ACU fourth quarter comeback – Polk had his records, and ACU was going to the playoffs.
The No. 15 Wildcats secured their spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs after a 70-yard game-winning drive and a defensive stop in the final seconds helped them to a 42-41 come-from- behind win over Midwestern State on Saturday.
“It was do or die today,” senior cornerback Corey Jordan said Saturday. “They had nothing to lose, we had nothing to lose, basically we were just trying to get on that airplane. That’s all we talked about is getting on that airplane.”
But ACU will not have to fly anywhere for the first round of the post-season.
The Wildcats, who completed the season with a 5-1 Lone Star Conference record and 9-2 overall record, moved up to No. 4 in the NCAA Division II Southwest regional poll and earned the right to host a game against No. 6 in the region Mesa State from Colo.
The playoff game will be the first time ACU has hosted a team since 1977 and is the first NCAA Division II football postseason game to be played at Shotwell Stadium.
In a matchup between the two top offenses in Division II football, the Midwestern fans at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls were not disappointed – until the end.
ACU trailed the entire game, and the Wildcats’ playoff hopes seemed to be unreachable after falling into 38-21 hole with 9:35 left in the third quarter.
But after a pair of touchdowns from junior running back Bernard Scott and a defensive stance that held Midwestern to three points in the fourth quarter – the Wildcats found themselves with the ball, six points behind with 4:13 on the clock.
From there, all ACU had to do was give Scott the ball.
Scott, who rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns, was handed the ball five out of the nine plays in the 70- yard, three and a half minute drive and cruised into the end zone after a pass interference call put the Wildcats five yards away from the end zone.
Matt Adams nailed the extra point after Scott’s 5-yard rush tied it up, to give ACU a 42-41 lead with 43 seconds left on the clock.
“That’s what you do when the game is on the line; put the ball in the hands of the playmakers,” said ACU coach Chris Thomsen. But the game wasn’t over yet.
Polk and the Mustangs got the ball back and made it down to the ACU 28-yard line, but a last-second touchdown throw to Tyron Morrison was ruled incomplete, and the Wildcat sideline and small group of Purple and White fans charged the field in celebration.
“That’s the heart of this team, to keep coming no matter what,” Thomsen said. “When we lost to [University of Central Oklahoma] we won six straight, and when we lost to [West Texas A&M] we won three straight. That is what this team is about.”
Senior Billy Malone’s 304 passing yards against Midwestern made him LSC’s career passing leader with a total of 8,167 yards. Malone’s final game also made him the first ACU quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards for two seasons in a row. With one year of eligibility left, Malone is already No. 2 on the ACU career-passing list behind Jim Lindsey.
Senior wide receiver Jerale Badon’s team-leading performance of seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown put his career receiving yards total at 3,092 yards and broke the LSC’s career record.
Polk rushed for a career best and school single-game record 290 yards, broke former Cooper High School graduate Dominic Rhodes Midwestern singleseason touchdown record after rushing for three touchdowns for a season total of 19.
ACU’s nine-win season was the first one since 1977, and its upcoming playoff berth is only the second time an ACU team has made the playoffs in 30 years. The win also pushed ACU up two spots from No. 17 to No. 15 in the American Football Coaches’ Association national rankings.