For the third consecutive season, the ACU Wildcats won their season opener against a top-10 opponent. The No. 6 Wildcats battled for a 34-26 victory in Topeka, Kans., against the No. 8 Washburn Ichabods on Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Mitchell Gale completed 24 of 30 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to victory.
Wildcats’ running back Daryl Richardson rushed for 74 yards and one touchdown in his first game as the featured back. Edmund Gates also came up big for ACU with 138 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Washburn struck first with a Vershon Moore touchdown from the one-yard line. Moore would finish the game with 66 of the Ichabods’ 126 rushing yards. The Ichabods missed the extra-point attempt after the ball hit holder Austin Hills’ helmet.
The Wildcats answered quickly as Darrell Cantu-Harkless returned the ensuing kick-off 93 yards to the Washburn six-yard line. Four plays later, Morgan Lineberry kicked a 21-yard field goal, after missing his first attempt earlier in the game.
“Darrell has great speed and open field ability, and he really showed that tonight,” said head coach Chris Thomsen.
The Wildcats did not score again until late in the second quarter when Richardson scampered into the end zone with a 27-yard rushing touchdown. Lineberry added the extra point to put ACU up 10-6 with five minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing drive for Washburn, Dane Simoneau led the Ichabods down the field to the ACU 43 yard line before fumbling on a strip sack by Kevin Washington. Mike Jones recovered for the Wildcats, and on the very next play Gale found Gates for a 51-yard touchdown down the sideline. Gale threw three touchdown passes, tying a career high.
“We really thought that over the summer he matured, and we were really hopeful tonight that he would put together that kind of performance,” said Thomsen. “We are super proud of him.”
Simoneau made up for his fumble on the next Washburn drive, leading the Ichabods on a drive that took just over one minute, capping it with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Joe Hastings. Simoneau’s pass on the two-point conversion was incomplete, sending the game to halftime with the Wildcats up 17-12. Simoneau would finish the game with 319 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
ACU’s opening drive of the second half was led by Gale who was eight for eight on the drive, finishing it off with a four-yard dump pass to Emery Dudensing, who took it in for the score.
After answering with a touchdown of their own, Washburn closed the gap to just six points. At the end of three quarters it was ACU 27 and Washburn 19.
After trading punts at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Washburn put together a drive that took them down to the ACU 16-yard line, where kicker Steve Ivanisevic had his field-goal attempt partially blocked by the Wildcats’ defense.
On the next ACU drive, Gale threw a 41-yard bomb to a wide-open Gates. The score proved to be the nail in the coffin, as the Wildcats held on for a 34-26 victory.
“It’s an exciting win for us,” Thomsen said. “We just feel fortunate to come up and be able to get a win. It means a lot for our team to start the season like that.”