The ACU Wildcats look to continue a seven-year trend in the matchup against West Texas A&M this Saturday, after coming off a 33-20 home victory over their rival, Angelo State. West Texas A&M just saw its own huge victory over Incarnate Word, 49-10.
Both teams are vying for at least a share of the conference championship, which adds to an already bitter rivalry between the two schools. With the win, the Wildcats would move to 10-0, halt the Buff’s bid for a share of the conference title and only have to beat Southwestern to clinch the Lone Star Conference. Should ACU lose, the Wildcats will move into a three-way tie with WT and Texas A&M-Kingsville. Both squads have a lot riding on this game.
“Every time we hook up there is a lot on the line,” head coach Chris Thomsen said.
Besides the conference title, ACU and WT alike are looking to solidify playoff spots. The Wildcats have virtually clinched, sitting as the only team in Super Region Four without a loss. WT, on the other hand, is fighting just to stay in the top six in the region. The Buffs are currently sitting at No. 5 and need to win out to guarantee themselves a spot in the NCAA playoffs.
Statistically, the matchup between these two teams is about as muddied as it gets. Offensively, ACU is No. 3 in Div. II at 43.44 points per game, while WT sits just one spot behind at No. 4 in Div. II with 42.56 points per game.
Edmund Gates and Mitchell Gale are arguably one of the most potent quarterback-receiver combos in the country. Gates leads the LSC in receiving touchdowns, and Gale is No. 4 in the country in passer efficiency.
Gates, Gale and the rest of the ACU offense will have to contend with a fast, talented WT defense. Linebacker Shad Baichtal has been a nightmare for opposing offenses. He leads WT defense in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries.
The secondary is also loaded with returning starters Tae Evans, Caleb Randolph and Curtis Jefferson. The three have combined for eight interceptions and 20 passes defended – more than the rest of the defense combined.
Taylor Harris leads a talented corps of wide receivers for WT. Stephen Burton is an NFL prospect and leads the Buffs in touchdowns with eight this season. Although Burton may be the most physically impressive receiver, he is not even the leader in receptions or receiving yards – those belong to Tyson Williams. Harris has thrown touchdowns to eight different receivers this year, which poses a challenge for the ACU defense.
“Burton is a big guy who can run,” Thomsen said. “You have to worry about him, but there is an entire group of guys there that can hurt you.”
ACU will need to put together one of the best games of the season to pull out the victory in one of the most hostile environments in the LSC.
The last trip the Wildcats made to Canyon saw nearly 14,000 fans from both sides attend the matchup.
“Two years ago I thought I was in Div. I or something,” said senior defensive end Fred Thompson. “It was so high energy, and I loved it.”
With another conference championship on the line for both teams, it should be just as rowdy and loud this time around.