The Wildcats showed their guts Saturday with a 31-28 comeback win over No. 8 Midwestern State. ACU played in front of its largest crowd of the season with 13,486 fans on hand for homecoming weekend.
Mitchell Gale had another solid day for the Wildcats, going 27-39 for 263 yards and three scores. Gale did not throw a single interception, which makes seven straight games he has not thrown the ball to the other team. Edmund Gates also had a stand-out game with 100 yards receiving for the third time this season.
“Edmund really had a dirty work type of game,” said ACU Head Coach Chris Thomsen. “He was getting catches across the middle, which is what he is going to have to do. They aren’t going to let him get deep every time.”
ACU came out fired up against Harlon Hill candidate Zack Eskridge and forced a punt on the Mustangs’ first drive. Aston Whiteside, Fred Thompson, and Marvin Jones all put pressure on Eskridge.
Early in the second quarter, ACU finally broke through on a drive that began with 2:28 remaining in the first quarter. On that drive, Kendrick Johnson fumbled the ball, eventually kicked out of bounds after three Mustang defenders couldn’t get a hold of it.
Later in the drive, Johnson made up for the botched play when Mitchell Gale found him on a seam route for a 16-yard score to put the Wildcats up 7-0.
Midwestern would answer with a field goal on their next drive. The score was set up by a busted play that ended up going for 46 yards. Eskridge fumbled the snap from center, picked up the ball and managed to find Desmond Ratliff wide open down the middle of the field. The Wildcats would score again before the half to put them selves up 14-6 heading into the break.
On ACU’s first drive of the fourth quarter the Wildcats were faced with a third down and a yard to go. Instead, Darrell Cantu-Harkless went 69 yards, much as he has done all season, out-running the Midwestern defense to put the Wildcats back on top at 24-21.
With 8:05 remaining in the game the Wildcats went back on offense, needing a score in a big way. Coach Thomsen and Offensive Coordinator Ken Collums decided to feature the running game on the drive. Daryl Richardson rushed the ball five times for 32 yards on the drive. With 2:40 remaining, Gale found Richardson in the end zone to put ACU ahead for good, 31-28. Richardson carried the ball 13 times for 74 yards, and Cantu-Harkless added 117 yards of his own to out-rush the run-happy Mustangs by 40 yards.
The Wildcats rushed for the most yards this season with 198. Daryl Richardson saw his first real action of the season since returning to the lineup after a knee injury.
“I thought both our guys did a great job today,” said Thomsen. “Our run game really bailed us out today.”
The Wildcats needed to prove they could rush the ball effectively to show a true balanced attack. With both Richardson and Cantu-Harkless having solid performances, Collums has a whole new dimension to his offense that was previously lacking.
Mitchell Gale is now unquestionably the leader of this offense. Gale went toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Zack Eskridge and came out on top, matching or passing Eskridge in every passing category in the game.
Although Gale had a statistically solid game, his stats were helped by the play of his wide receivers.Â Edmund Gates made at least three catches where he had to make an adjustment to Gales throws. Gates hasÂ emerged as a legitimate threat this season,Â not just a burner who can beat you deep. He did an excellent job in route running and setting up defenders on his routes.
The Wildcats showed all of their grit over the weekend in a comeback victory. This veteran team has now proven over the last two weeks, it is ready to be considered, once again, a top contender of Div. II.