By Michael Freeman, Managing Editor
The Wildcats took their midterm Saturday night, and they passed the test with flying colors. No. 3 ACU defeated No. 4 West Texas A&M 52-35 at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium in Canyon in front of a crowd of 19,380. The win kept the Wildcats’ perfect record intact as they improved to 7-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Lone Star Conference, while the Buffs lost their first game of the season, falling to 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference. With the win, ACU is off to its best start since 2006.
“It’s all about execution,” said Don Carthel, West Texas A&M head coach. “We had several times when the momentum was going our way. And every time it did, they’d answer. So hats off to them for tonight.”
Quarterback Billy Malone finished the game with 386 passing yards and three touchdowns. Malone also ran for two more touchdowns. Running back Bernard Scott gave a monstrous performance, ending the game with 400 all-purpose yards (259 rushing yards and 141 receiving yards) and three touchdowns. And wide receiver Johnny Knox caught 203 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“You can’t say enough,” said Chris Thomsen, ACU head coach. “Those three guys took over the game. They’re great competitors, all three of them.”
The Wildcat trio led a balanced attack of 41 rushing attempts totaling 255 yards and 41 passing attempts providing 386 yards through the air. The Buffs, whose offense seemed to struggle finding a rhythm throughout the game, only gained 65 yards on the ground while picking up 415 yards passing. Five turnovers did not help West Texas A&M’s cause as quarterback Keith Null threw three interceptions and wide receivers Charly Martin and Anthony Clark each lost a fumble. ACU also controlled the clock as the offense held onto the ball for nearly 36 minutes in the game, a third of which came in the first quarter alone, leaving the Buffs to only have possession for 2:04 in the opening quarter. The first quarter offense proved critical as the Wildcats took an early 14-0 lead.
“It was obviously real important just because of the way they came back,” Thomsen said. “We needed all of those points that we scored early to win the game.”
On ACU’s opening drive, the offense marched 85 yards down the field in seven plays and 3:54, culminating in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Malone to Knox. The Wildcats were back on offense soon after their first drive as West Texas A&M’s Charly Martin fumbled the ball on the Buffs 48-yard line. ACU was able to get back into West Texas A&M’s red zone on the ensuing drive, but came away without any points as placekicker Matt Adam’s 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Buffs were unable to take advantage of the block as they punted the ball away after four downs. Malone and the Wildcats then constructed a 13-play, 5:46 drive that covered 71 yards and ended with Malone sneaking one yard into the end zone, putting ACU up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter of play.
The second quarter began in favor of ACU as well as defensive back Alex Harbison intercepted Null on the first play. Three plays later, Malone tossed a 34-yard pass to Scott who sprinted into the end zone. After both teams traded unsuccessful drives, the Buffs finally managed to put some points on the scoreboard with 6:19 remaining in the half. Null threw a 4-yard pass to Martin to cut ACU’s lead to 21-7.
The touchdown energized the crowd and the WTAMU defense as it almost forced ACU to go three-and-out until Malone connected with a 40-yard pass to Knox, taking the Cats down to the Buff 14-yard line. The drive ended with a 29-yard field goal by Matt Adams, giving ACU a 17-point lead. Buff wide receiver Anthony Clark fumbled on West Texas A&M’s next possession, and ACU capitalized less than two minutes later as Knox grabbed a 20-yard pass from Malone and took it in for six points. West Texas A&M tried to respond before the half ended, but defensive back Craig Harris intercepted a Null pass with 22 seconds left.
“Our defense played really hard,” Thomsen said. “They were very active once again, and made a lot of plays.”
However, the Buffs came out of halftime with renewed energy as they took their first drive of the second half 65 yards down the field in two minutes, finishing with running back Kelvin Thompson punching it into the end zone from five yards out. The Wildcats bounced back with a quick score of their own as Scott burst through the defense on a fourth down and one yard to go play, taking it 47 yards to pay dirt.
A couple of drives later, West Texas A&M gained new life as its offense scored 2:33 left in the quarter after running back Seth Hayden scored off of a 7-yard pass from Null. The Buffs reached into their bag of tricks on the ensuing kickoff, faking the long kick and tapping a surprise onside kick, which kicker Miguel Ruiz recovered. On the very next play, Null launched a 55-yard pass, hitting Charly Martin in stride as he trotted in for a score, cutting ACU’s lead to 38-28. The Wildcats responded by taking the ball 65 yards down the field, halting at West Texas A&M’s 2-yard line as the third quarter ended.
Malone scored on the first play of the fourth quarter after duping the WTAMU defense on a bootleg play to the left side of the field, leaving him with an easy walk into the end zone. The Buffs kept pace with the Wildcats as they scored two minutes later with Null completing a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carl Johnson.
But, Bernard Scott dashed any vestiges of hope for a comeback West Texas A&M fans might have had as he split the defense and ran 65 yards for a score with 5:54 left in the game.
“The coaches put us in the right position to make plays,” Scott said. “I just wanted to make plays whenever my number was called, and I did pretty good job at it tonight.”
The Wildcats ran out the clock to secure their 52-35 win. The loss marked the first time since WTAMU has lost at home since Oct. 19, 2006 when the Buffs fell to ACU 49-33.
The Cats’s next test will be at their Homecoming game next Saturday against Tarleton State. No. 19 Tarleton State is 6-1 this season. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at Shotwell Stadium.
“It’s always a war with Tarleton,” Thomsen said. “We just have to get refocused and play.”