After two straight losses, the Wildcats earned their first conference of the season, defeating the Lamar Cardinals, 24-17.
ACU was the first team to score when redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Mansell ran for a 39-yard touchdown in the team’s first drive of the game. Lamar would strike back in the second quarter with a touchdown of their own, but the next drive redshirt freshman quarterback Stone Earle ran the ball into the endzone, bringing the score to 14-7.
In the Wildcats’ next drive, a 31-yard pass to senior wide receiver Kobe Clark caused Earle to go down with a lower leg injury. ACU’s starting quarterback was eventually carted off the field, and as of now, there is no official word to the extent of his injury.
“He has an injury that we are keeping undisclosed at this time,” said head coach Adam Dorrel. “I had the chance to talk to him, and he is in good spirits. We’ll just have to see on Monday how he is after our team physicians look at him.”
Seemingly capitalizing off of ACU’s loss of one of their quarterbacks, the Cardinals finished the quarter 10-0, scoring both a touchdown and a field goal. This brought the score at halftime to 17-14 in Lamar’s favor.
Dorrel said a new offense and a lack of energy was another reason the team struggled in the first half.
“Lamar came out and played a new entire offense that they had not played all season,” Dorrel said. “We had to scramble and relearn all of our calls and checks. I was also a little disappointed in the lack of energy we started the game with, especially after our last couple of games, but I was still confident we could get the job done.”
In the second half, the tides turned in the Wildcats’ favor. With just under 10 minutes left n the third quarter, Mansell scored his second rushing touchdown of the game by running the ball for a four-yard rushing touchdown off of a drive that encompassed 10 plays and 75 yards.
By the end of the game, Mansell finished with 135 passing yards and 122 rushing yards that included his two rushing touchdowns. The backup quarterback has played a huge role in ACU’s rushing game and talked after the game about stepping into the role he did after Earle was injured.
“We really harped on the ‘next man in’ mentality and everyone is one snap from playing,” Mansell said. “It was a lot easier going in and taking that main role after playing a couple of snaps versus going in cold. But my mindset is to always be ready to go, and that came into fruition today.”
With 4:28 left in the third, the Wildcat defense made their most crucial stop of the game. It was fourth down at the Wildcats six-yard line, with Lamar needing one yard to earn first down. The Cardinals rushed the ball but were stopped short by redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Paup and redshirt junior linebacker Tony Hargrove, resulting in a turnover on downs.
After the game, Dorrel talked about how that play helped the team win the game.
“Whenever you play a run-heavy team, a play like that is huge,” Dorrel said. “I thought it was the best play our defense had all day, it played a huge part in our win and gave them a lot of confidence to finish out the game.”
The last score of the game was a 31-yard field goal kick by redshirt sophomore placekicker Blair Zepeda, bringing the game to the final score of 24-17.
Now, the Wildcats enter a bye-week for the first time this season. And, according to Dorrel, he is looking forward to the opportunity for his team to rest and recover.
“We desperately needed a bye, it’s one of the latest in our conference this season,” Dorrel said. “The main priority is to rest, both physically and mentally this week as well as focus on our academics. We’ll also start the play prep for our next game, but the big thing that we need is to be light this week and let the guys have a chance to go home, and by doing that, hopefully, the guys will come back refreshed.”
ACU’s next game is on Oct. 30, when they go on the road to face-off against former Southland Conference, but now Western Athletic Conference foe, Stephen F. Austin. The Wildcats and Lumberjacks will begin their matchup at 4 p.m. on Oct. 30 in Nacogdoches, with the game streaming live on ESPN+.