For the third year in a row the ACU Wildcats head into Homecoming weekend undefeated and in the top of the Lone Star Conference. This weekend the Wildcats will be up against another undefeated LSC team, the Midwestern State University Mustangs.
The Mustangs come in ranked No. 8 in the country, one of the four LSC South teams ranked in the top 10. Midwestern and ACU have split the last six meetings with three wins each, including a one and one split in two games last season.
“It’s a great rivalry with them,” said head coach Chris Thomsen. “They are just two hours down the road.”
One thing Midwestern brings to the game is physical offensive line play. Senior left guard Hank Gilley anchors a young but very productive offensive line for the Mustangs. Gilley and the rest of the line have allowed just five sacks on the season and created holes for a running game that ranks sixth in Div. II with 248 yards per game.
The backfield for Midwestern is one of the best in the conference. Running back Marcus Mathis returns for his senior season averaging 83 yards per game on the ground. Zack Eskridge is the LSC preseason Offensive Player of the Year selection, and has lived up to the billing. Eskridge ranks 18th in Div. II in passing efficiency and second in the LSC behind Mitchell Gale. The Mustangs’ signal caller has 10 passing touchdowns and just one interception this season.
“This is going to be our defense’s biggest challenge,” Thomsen said. “And Eskridge will be the best quarterback we face this year.”
ACU will need the secondary to step up this week against the best passing offense they have seen since the season opener at Washburn University. The Wildcats gave up over 300 yards and two touchdowns to Dan Simoneau. ACU allowed just 279 passing yards against Kingsville University last weekend, but Javelina quarterback Nate Poppell missed a number of wide-open receivers deep down the field. Drew Cuffee and company will have to shore up the deep middle if they hope to keep Eskridge in check.
For all Midwestern’s offensive weapons, it has an average defense this season compared to past years. The Mustangs’ defense has allowed nearly 300 yards per game on offense – the 23rd best in Div. II – but has faced teams that average to 84th in Div. II in total offense.
Sophomore linebacker Matt Ellerbock and Senior Ryan Craven lead the Mustangs’ defense. Craven is the leading tackler again this season after leading Midwestern in that department last season. Craven also has three passes defended and one interception on the season.
The Wildcats were held to just 23 yards on the ground on 25 carries. Going from a defense that allows less than 30 yards per game to one that allows 98 yards per game should be a big help.
“Kingsville had a great defense, but we have to get the running game back on track,” said fullback Emery Dudensing.
Mitchell Gale will need to be as sharp as he was last weekend against Kingsville to ensure an ACU victory. Although the Mustangs don’t have the numbers of a Javelina defense, they know how to make big plays when needed.
In last week’s game against Incarnate Word the Mustangs’ defense allowed 31 points to the 99th ranked offense, but it managed a huge stop on the fourth down in the first possession of overtime to give Midwestern the win.
This Saturday will be another test for the Wildcats as they face their third top-10 opponent of the year. The Homecoming game kickoff is 2 p.m. Saturday at Shotwell Stadium.