The Wildcats moved to 5-0 in the season with a wild win down in Kingsville – by far the closest game this season for ACU.
Mitchell Gale led the Wildcats to victory, completing 34 of 51 pass attempts for a career-high 417 yards and three scores. Gale’s performance earned him Lone Star Conference South Division Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season. Edmund Gates and Kendrick Johnson led the ACU receiving core with 135 yards and 134 yards respectively. Gates scored one touchdown in the second quarter to put the Wildcats up 14-0. ACU totaled 440 yards in the game, amassing nearly 250 yards more than any other team this season against Kingsville.
“It was a little bit of a surprise with that kind of defense,” said Head Coach Chris Thomsen.
ACU came out firing from the get-go, taking the opening drive 67-yards, hitting four different receivers on the drive. Darrell Cantu-Harkless made his third consecutive start and capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown run to put ACU up 7-0. Cantu-Harkless had just 18 yards on the ground on 10 carries, and the Wildcats amassed just 23 yards on 26 carries.
This would remain for most of the first half, as the Wildcat defense stepped up and held the Javelinas to just 134 yards in the first half.
Just before half the Wildcats were backed up deep in their own territory. But Gale calmly led the Wildcats down the field using Edmund Gates as the main stay of the drive. Gates had two catches on the drive, the last one a 26 yard strike that put the Wildcats up 14-0 heading into the break.
ACU looked to be in complete control of the game until the Javelinas struck back. Running back Connell Davis made Javelina take an option play 59-yards to the end zone, finally putting the Javelinas on the board with 8:05 left in the third.
The Javelinas struck quickly in the fourth quarter when Nate Poppell found Division I transfer Delashaun Dean to pull within striking distance 31-17. Poppell finished the night just 24 of 57 for 279 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
With just 3:15 left, Poppell dropped back again, looking for Robert Armstrong, but after the ball was tipped in the air it found Darien Williams instead. The interception halted a Javelina drive to tie the game, and ACU won by a final score of 31 to 24.
“I dropped a pick earlier, and I knew once I saw that ball in the air, I had to go get that,” said safety Darien Williams. “It’s a big win for us. We have never been tested like this before.”
Whatever offensive worries Wildcat fans had coming into the season, it is safe to say this offense will not be a hindrance this season. ACU is averaging over 100 yards more per game than they did last year in total offense and 98 yards more through the air.
For the first time this season Mark Sprague and the punt team had a punt blocked, which proved to be a very costly mistake for the Wildcats.
“We have to clean some of those things up,” said Thomsen. “We had a chance to put them away, but credit them with the nice plays.”
The blocked punt was reminiscent of many from last season, a season in which the Wildcats had four punts blocked; three came at the hands of Texas A&M-Kingsville.
The secondary issues were, again, a fault in an otherwise good night for the Wildcats.
Although Poppell completed under 50-percent of his passes, it was more the Javelinas problems on offense that led to the low completions than the ACU defenders. More than a hand full of times Kingsville receivers beat the Wildcat secondary down field, Poppell just overthrew them, or they dropped the passes. Nevertheless, when called upon, the secondary made the stops with a huge interception towards the end of the game.
The Wildcats will be back in action this weekend for a homecoming showdown with Midwestern State.