ACU’s home record remains untarnished after defeated the Div. II Western New Mexico Mustangs on Saturday in Wildcat Stadium, 34-7.
With the win, the Wildcats now are 3-1 this season, the best start for ACU’s football program since 2013. The Wildcats are also one step closer to reaching their preseason goal of staying undefeated at home, with their home record currently sitting at 3-0.
The Mustangs striked first in the matchup, taking a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. From there, WNMU did not score for the remainder of the game.
The Wildcat defense dominated during the Saturday night matchup, as well as bought the offense time to get going starting the second quarter. ACU’s defense held the Mustangs to 165 passing yards and caused one interception.
The even bigger statistic for the night for the Wildcats was that they only allowed the Mustangs to earn two total rushing yards, which caught the attention of former defensive coordinator turned ACU head coach, Keith Patterson
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before, but that will take it,” Patterson said. “I am so proud of not only the coaches on that side of the ball but the players on that side of the ball. I was a little bit uncertain about defense coming out of spring and all the way through fall camp, I just didn’t really know. But they’ve just gotten better and better and will continue to do that.”
The only interception of the night happened with 1:25 left in the game, serving as a final exclamation point in ACU’s dominant defensive performance. The play was made by primary team captain and senior safety Perton Mansell, who made the read, ran across the field to catch the ball, then ran the ball for an extra 24 yards.
When Mansell caught the ball for his first career interception, the sideline erupted in celebration, with players and coaches alike jumping for joy for the quarterback turned safety’s shining moment. This, according to Patterson, showed the respect the Wildcats have for their team captain.
“Here’s a young man that didn’t win the quarterback job, but I told him in the spring that we’ll figure out a role for you on this football team, and we did,” Patterson said. “I can’t say enough about him and what he brings and the attitude that he brings, even though he’s not even starting. He plays a vital role on this team and his leadership is unquestioned.”
As the defense thrived, the offense struggled to get going until the second quarter, when ACU’s running game kicked into full gear.
The Wildcats’ running game was led by sophomore running back Jermiah Dobbins and freshman running back Rovaughn Banks Jr. Dobbins finished Saturday running for 105 yards, while Banks Jr. finished with 143 yards and two touchdowns both in the second quarter to help give ACU a 17-7 lead heading into halftime.
Patterson praised Banks Jr. and said he was proud of all the development he had seen and is looking forward to see the continued development of ACU’s running game.
“He was running inspired tonight,” Patterson said. “So, I’m very proud of Rovaughn [Banks Jr.] and when we get Ant [Anthony Smith] back, plus having Dobbins, I love that because we’re building depth at that position. It’s going to be an exciting group.”
Leading the Wildcats’ passing game was junior backup quarterback Ethan Long, a transfer from Arizona State, He took over for sophomore quarterback Maverick McIvor midway through the first quarter, and stayed under center for the rest of the game.
Long finished the night throwing 22-34 for 251 yards and two touchdowns, all while throwing zero interceptions. His first passing touchdown came in the fourth quarter when he threw a 20-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Kobe Clark, who dove to catch the ball in the far corner of the endzone. Clark went on to finish the night with seven receptions for 92 yards, while Long threw a three-yard pass to sophomore fullback Rece Stafford with under three minutes left to finish of the game.
After the win, Long credited the defense, offensive line and receivers on the win, and mentioned how fun it was to play the majority of minutes in a college game for the first time in his career.
“I got to play here and there at Arizona State, but being able to string some drives together was really fun,” Long said. “I just can’t thank the line and the defense enough. The receivers really did a good job to convert on third down. I can’t lie, it’s fun to play football at any level and, winning is even more fun.”
Now, after having three of their first four games at home, the Wildcats’ next two games will be on the road to open Western Athletic Conference play.
To open conference play, ACU heads to St. George, Utah, to face off against the Utah Tech Trailblazers. The game in Greater Zion Stadium will kick-off at 8 p.m. and will stream live on ESPN+.