The ACU football team had their first test of the season Saturday and passed with flying colors in a 52-28 victory over N.M. Highlands.
The Wildcats jumped out to an early 10-0 lead behind an 87-yard touchdown pass from John David Baker to Darian Hogg. From there ACU continued to create separation and the game was never close.
The Cowboys packed the box and tried to stop the potent Wildcat rushing attack, so Baker threw the ball for 392 yards and five touchdowns in only three quarters of work.
Quarterbacks Malcolm Rueben and Parker McKinzie split time in the fourth quarter for the Wildcats.
Wide Receiver Taylor Gabriel was the recipient of nine passes from Baker for 160 yards and three scores.
“That first touchdown, I wasn’t going to let it get away from me,” Gabriel said. “I just had to dive, and after I scored it was like a breath of fresh air. It felt really good.”
Gabriel had been held out of the end zone for the first two games of the season before breaking out against the Cowboys.
The Wildcats have scored more than 50 points in each of their first three games behind a balanced rushing and passing attack.
Darrell Cantu-Harkless also caught a touchdown and Charcandrick West ran for a touchdown in the game as well. West also led the team in rushing with 65 yards.
Defensively, ACU flew around the football the entire night, forcing five turnovers and stopping N.M. Highlands twice on fourth down as well.
“We are all trying to get around the ball,” linebaker Thor Woerner said. “We are focusing on [turnovers] a little bit. That’s part of the game and we have to do that in order to help our offense.”
Woerner’s fumble recovery was the third turnover he has recorded in the first three games. He also led the team in tackles with 11.
“As you start getting deeper into this defense, you start learning the more intricate parts of it,” Woerner said. “Once you start using that, things open up and you are able to make plays.”
Defensive end Nick Richardson also had a big game for the Wildcats, earning three sacks and a fumble recovery of his own during the game.
Linebacker Blake Rudd forced a fumble and also intercepted a pass from Cowboy quarterback Emmanuel Lewis. Rudd also intercepted a pass earlier in the season.
Justin Stephens also recovered a fumble in the first series of the game after missing last week’s game with an injury.
The defense scored a touchdown in the third quarter when defensive lineman Nick Finney scooped up a fumble and dashed into the end zone for six points.
The Wildcats will hit the road for the first time all season next week when they travel to Normal, IL to take on their first Div. I opponent, Illinois State.
“We practice hard,” Woerner said. “You have to fear no one but respect everyone and we are doing that right now.”