On the biggest stage in Texas, the Wildcats were shown up by a team from Alabama. The North Alabama Lions used a quick start and a suffocating defense to down the Wildcats 23-17.
“I thought it was a heck of a game,” ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said. “We played poorly in some areas with turnovers and penalties.”
Turnovers were the problem for the ‘Cats as three Lion touchdowns came from ACU giveaways. The third touchdown was the most demoralizing, however.
With the Wildcats driving late in the third quarter, Gale threw an out-route to receiver Darian Hogg. Hogg was stripped of the ball and star cornerback Janoris Jenkins took the fumble back 49 yards for a touchdown. That score increased the Lion lead to 23-10 and North Alabama never looked back.
“Our D-line read the play good and forced a fumble,” Jenkins said. “I was there to scoop and score.”
ACU was able to make it interesting late with a touchdown inside of two minutes.
Quarterback Mitchell Gale found receiver Taylor Gabriel in the endzone with 1:42 left in the game to close the gap to 23-17.
The ‘Cats almost recovered the ensuing onside kick, but the Lions were able to fall on the ball and run out the rest of the clock to seal the victory.
“It was everything I hoped it would be,” North Alabama head coach Terry Bowden said. “To come in here and play the best team in the Lone Star Conference and beat them in their own backyard, I can’t believe it.”
ACU looked shell-shocked to open the game as Gale threw two first quarter interceptions, and the defense was gouged by the quick North Alabama offense. The two interceptions putÂ Gale’s total for the season at four, one more than he had last year.
“We did things that were good, but we would offset them with turnovers,” Gale said. “It’s the same thing we did against Tarleton, and it’s very frustrating.”
Lion quarterback Lee Chapple was sharp early as had 176 yards passing and a touchdown in the first half. North Alabama opened the scoring with a 45-yard field goal. The Lions piled on the points in the first quarter as they scored two touchdowns in a three minute span – one a pass from Chapple to receiver Tristan Purifoy and the other a 9-yard scamper by running back Antwan Ivey.Â Ivey amassed 118 yards in the opening half, finding holes in the ACU D.
Gale came alive midway through the second quarter as the Wildcats were forced to find yards through the air. The Harlon Hill finalist from 2010 threw for 249 yards in the first half, and finally found pay dirt with five minutes left in the half.
On a third and goal from the 18, Gale threw a strike that was caught by Gabriel in the back of the endzone. Gabriel hung onto the ball despite getting crushed as the ball hit his numbers.
The ‘Cats were able to tack on a field goal at the end of the half to narrow the margin to 16-10.
In the half, the Lions missed a field goal and an extra point.
North Alabama left another six points on the board in the third quarter after it missed a second field goal and had a third one blocked by ACU defensive lineman Aston Whiteside.
“The defense was able to get some huge stops,” Thomsen said. “The pressure was there, and we fought our way back, but that fumble was huge. We just didn’t get it done.”
Being behind the entire forced ACU to continue to turn to the passing game. Gale finished the game with 390 passing yards and two touchdowns while Chapple finished with 240 and a score.
Gabriel led all receivers with 135 yards on eight catches as he had both ACU TDs. Richardson had 63 yards rushing and 59 yards receiving to pace the Wildcat backfield.
Despite the loss, the Wildcats out-gained the Lions in yards by a wide margin of 493 to 348. The loss drops the Wildcats to 1-1 on the young season, yet they still remain 1-0 in conference play. The Lions are now 3-0 on the season and are likely to move up from their #4 spot in the national rankings.
ACU has their home opener next weekend against Angelo St. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Shotwell Stadium.