The Wildcats battled back from an 11-point deficit to defeat the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds 44-33 Saturday night. The Wildcats’ rushing attack overcame some costly turnovers for the victory.
Instead of the predicted high-scoring shootout, the first quarter became a defensive clash, ending in a 0-0 tie. Scoring picked up as the Wildcats put two field goals on the board, although both drives stalled in the red zone.
The Greyhounds answered with a touchdown on a one-yard pass from quarterback J.J. Harp to wide receiver Jesse Poku, but a missed extra point left the game tied 6-6. After a Wildcat fumble, the Greyhounds scored another touchdown for a 7-point lead. The Wildcats salvaged three more points before halftime, bringing the score to 13-9.
Despite a low-scoring first half, the anticipated scoring showdown kicked off at the start of the third quarter. ACU appeared to be in trouble when the Greyhounds intercepted the ball and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown, leaving the Wildcats at an 11-point deficit once again.
However, with their backs against the wall, Justin Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to bring the Wildcats within four points of the lead.
The Greyhounds needed only 53 seconds on their next touchdown drive to make the score 27-16, but ACU responded with a 38-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Edmund Gates.
After ENMU jumped back into the lead with a 39-yard field goal by Taylor Cannon, the Wildcats tied the game at 30-30 with a touchdown run by Reggie Brown. Brown continued to take over the game, scoring two more touchdowns in the fourth and rushing for 235 yards, a career high.
“It was a great game that was very exciting,” Brown said. “I just got to give a lot of thanks to my linemen. They did a big part of it, just opening up holes so I could run.”
The Wildcats racked up 21 points in the fourth quarter alone. The defense held the Greyhounds to three more points, and defensive back Major Culbert made an interception, leading the Wildcats to victory.
Head Coach Chris Thomsen was critical of his team despite the victory.
“We had too many turnovers,” Thomsen said. “We need to be able to be aggressive on offense and still protect the ball. We turned it over and put our defense in a bad situation, but on the flip side, I am proud of our guys for continuing to battle back. And we are really glad to get out of here with a win.”
The Wildcats’ defense held the best offense in Division II to 303 total yards. They also stepped up to make big plays when the game was on the line. Their passing game struggled, but the rushing attack made up for it, rushing for 362 total yards.
Many questions at quarterback were left unanswered. Zach Stewart struggled with turnovers, and Mitchell Gale had a costly fumble. Clark Harrell did not turn the ball over, emerging as the dominant quarterback in the fourth quarter – although he completed only three of six passes for 60 yards.
The Wildcats remain unbeaten at 5-0, while the Greyhounds fell to 2-3. The Wildcats will put their perfect 5-0 record on the line Saturday against the East Central University Tigers in Ada, Okla., at 2 p.m.