It took four games, but Mitchell Gale and his offense are finally clicking on all cylinders.
Gale threw for 356 yards and two TDs as the Wildcats exploded for a 51-35 victory over the Western Oregon Wolves on Saturday in Shotwell.
The Wildcats sealed the victory in a 24-point third quarter that saw ACU generate three highlight reel plays for TDs.
With the Wildcats up 24-21, and the game still hanging in the balance, Gale lofted a pass to receiver Darian Hogg on a deep corner route. Hogg won the jumpball with a Wolves defender, and came down in the end zone for a 47-yard TD.
The ACU D forced a punt from the Wolves offense. Ten seconds and 55 yards later, Taylor Gabriel was standing in the end zone with his second career return touchdown to give the Wildcats a 38-21 lead.
After the Wolves answered with a TD of their own, Gale found Darrell Cantu-Harkless on a short pass. DCH did the rest as he ran 61 yards to pay dirt to open the lead back up to 45-28.
Those TDs are the three longest scores for the Wildcats this season, who have been conservative with some new pieces in their offense. One of those new pieces is transfer receiver Jamaine Sherman. Sherman is tabbed to be the Wildcats deep threat this season, but hasn’t seen a lot of on-field action. Although Sherman didn’t put up big numbers (six catches for 48 yards), he was involved in the offensive scheme – a good sign for the future.
One receiver that did put up big numbers for the second consecutive week was Gabriel. Other than the return TD, Gabriel had six catches for 90 yards.
“I some great blocks on that return,” Gabriel said. “It wasn’t even me, it was my blockers. I was cramping up during the run. I was just trying to get to the end zone.”
Running back Daryl Richardson finally broke the century mark in rushing yards in the victory. Richardson’s 15 carry 105 yard game is the first time this season that a Wildcat running back has broken the 100-yard barrier. Richardson, Gale, and Reggie Brown all had rushing TDs against the Wolves.
Something that should still worry Wildcat fans is the ACU secondary. The Wolves threw for 387 yards and three touchdowns with their two QB system. In two weeks, the Wildcats have allowed over 800 passing yards and five TDs.
The defense had its moments though on Saturday night. The Wildcat D got to the Wolves QBs four times for sacks. Linebacker Derek Odelusi had two of the four sacks.
“We have been getting real close all season,” Odelusi said. “The whole time I am running toward him I’m like ‘don’t throw it, don’t throw it.’ It’s about securing the tackle and celebrating with the team.”
A game changing play by the defense happened early on in the game. On the Wolves third play from scrimmage, QB Evan Mozzochi hit receiver Josh McFarland on a short pass. While the ACU defense was getting Mozzochi to the ground, defensive back Richard Havins knocked the ball out. The fumble was recovered by Donald Moore, and set up ACU to score their first touchdown of the game on a Brown one yard plunge into the end zone.
The Wolves immediately came back and tied the game on their next drive. It took the ‘Cats a few drives, but they finally got back on the board again when Richardson ran a sweep to to the ACU sideline. The elusive running back made a few Wolves miss and scampered 22 yards to give ACU the lead back.
Again, WOU tied it up quickly on Mozzochi’s first passing TD of the game. With under two minutes left, Gale and the offense got the ball back and executed the two-minute drill to perfection. Gale rushed into the end zone from seven yards out with 25 seconds left in the half to put ACU ahead going into the locker room 21-14.
One more big time performer for the ‘Cats was kicker Morgan Lineberry. All six of Lineberry’s extra points were pure, and he also added three field goals on the night.
Two of Lineberry’s three field goals accounted for all of the Wildcats fourth quarter points as the defense shut down the Wolves in the final 15 minutes.
ACU (3-1, 2-0) will travel to Portales, NM next weekend to play the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds (1-4, 1-2). Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Mountain Time and 4 p.m. local time.