ACU added an important win on Saturday as the 1-5 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks came to town for Homecoming weekend.
The Wildcats looked to blow the SFA Lumberjacks out of the water on Saturday to keep their playoff dream alive. SFA came into the game allowing nearly 1,400 rushing yards on the season, as well as 1,701 passing yards.
This looked to be an easy task for a high-powered ACU offense led by senior captains running back Tracy James and wide receiver Josh Fink. That was not the case as SFA showed off their talent and pushed the Wildcats to a double overtime thriller.
SFA scored midway through the first quarter, the first score of the game, on a deep pass from Sophomore quarterback Trae Self to wide open Freshman receiver and speedster Xavier Gipson. ACU would not answer in the first quarter, but would double that score in the second.
Both touchdowns came from Tracy James, one on the ground and one through the air. James would later add a third touchdown on the day to regain the FCS lead in touchdowns and add onto his Southland Conference lead with 16.
“I always work on trying to score in practice,” James said. “After every play I always try to get to the end zone. It’s something I always work on.”
SFA would end up putting seven points on the board in the second quarter, not scoring in the third and responding with 10 unanswered points in the fourth to send the game into overtime.
The Wildcats helped out the Lumberjacks all game with penalties, which is unusual for a team who ranks in the top five in penalties allowed this season. The Wildcats were flagged 10 times for 80 yards, whereas SFA was only penalized once for eight yards. These penalties allowed SFA to continue drives that inevitably led to scoring opportunities, but swung the momentum in their favor.
“It was a good game at the conclusion,” Head Coach Adam Dorrel said. “We were all very upset with the penalties, because we had been doing a good job with that. I think that was a huge deciding factor in it, we were behind the sticks a lot.”
In overtime, both ACU and SFA would get the chance to start their drives on the opponent’s 25-yard line with ACU electing to defend and SFA receiving the ball on offense. The drive started out with a bang for SFA, as superstar running back Da’Leon Ward ran the ball to the half-yard line.
From there, the ACU defense took over. They stopped a huge run up the middle on first and goal, forced and incomplete pass on second and goal. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Chambers brought down Ward for an eight-yard loss on third and goal.
SFA brought in the reigning Southland Conference Special Teams Player of the Week kicker Storm Ruiz, who had only missed two field goals all year, on fourth down and he pushed his kick wide right and missed. ACU would have an opportunity to respond and win the game, but went three and out with a missed field goal by kicker Blair Zepeda. This forced a double overtime.
“We knew we needed to get a stop,” Chamber said. “It was close on the first one, he almost scored, so we tied down knowing they weren’t going to run on us and we executed really well.”
In the second overtime, ACU received the ball first and began their drive with a three yard rush by Tracy James to the left side. Junior quarterback Luke Anthony looked for James again, this time through the air but the pass was incomplete.
On third down Anthony did not miss his target, as he had a wide open Kobe Clark deep in the back-right end of the end zone to push the Wildcats ahead 30-24. Blair Zepeda came on to attempt the field goal and made it to extend the Wildcat lead to seven.
“It felt amazing, almost better than my first touchdown,” Clark said. “It was on a play that normally isn’t thrown to me, but I was open and Luke (Anthony) found me in the endzone. It was a great feeling.”
SFA had a chance to respond and brought in redshirt freshman quarterback Cam Arnold to start their overtime drive. Arnold looked for Xavier Gipson to open the drive, but the ball was deflected off the hand of Senior-captain linebacker Jack Gibbens.
Da’Leon Ward would rush for six yards on second down, and would lose three on third down, being brought down by Senior and Junior defensive tackles Bright Ihegworo and Cole Burgess.
The Lumberjacks took their one timeout and brought back in Sophomore quarterback Trae Self for fourth down. Self would scramble to his right and throw while being brought down by Senior defensive tackle Temisan Kuyatsemi to end the ball game.
“It was a good win,” Clark said. “Any win is a good win. It was a close one, but it was a good win for sure.”
For ACU, they move to 4-4 on the season and push Stephen F. Austin to 1-6. The Wildcats will look to continue their winning streak next week as they face off against defending Southland Conference champion, Nicholls in Thibodaux, Louisiana.