The Wildcats (4-1, 1-0) hit the road once again as they head to Nacogdoches to take on long-time foe, Stephen F. Austin (2-3, 0-0) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Homer Bryce Stadium.
Though both teams reside in the Western Athletic Conference, this first matchup between the Lumberjacks and the Wildcats will not count as a conference game. The two teams conference matchup will take place Nov. 19, when SFA heads to Abilene to play ACU on the Wildcats’ home turf. With Lamar and the University of Incarnate Word’s abrupt decisions to leave the WAC over the summer, the conference schedules quickly changed. Despite the oddness in the schedule, head coach Keith Patterson sees it as a chance for the team to grow.
“It’s a conference opponent, but it’s not a conference game due to the change in our schedule this season, so it’s kind of got a weird feel,” Patterson said. “I view that as a positive because to me, it’s just another week for us to focus really hard on what we’re doing, make sure that we continue to refine coach with a critical eye, look at and evaluate how we are doing.”
As for last week, the Lumberjacks, the team is coming off a 17-16 loss to the Sam Houston State Bearkats, another familiar opponent to ACU. SFA jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, but the Bearkats came roaring back, gaining the lead from the Lumberjacks after some fourth quarter heroics.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, went on the road and defeated Utah Tech 26-10, earning their first conference win of the season. The win came as a result of a 20-0 second half in favor of the Wildcats, who continue to dominate teams in the second half. In the fourth quarter alone this year, the Wildcats have outscored opponents 62-3.
“It speaks to our focus and a mental intensity to be able to concentrate throughout the course of the game,” Patterson said, “and just stay within the framework of the scheme and don’t try to play outside of that. Our kids have really pulled together when things don’t go their way, there’s no panic. We’ve talked about that so much becoming like minded, and if we can continue to do that, then it should continue to lead to success.”
Most of these wins and second-half takeovers can be credited to the Wildcat defense, who have held their opponents scoreless in the second half the past two games. Patterson credits their success to how they work together.
“They’re just playing together as a unit,” Patterson said. “We don’t have any superstars on defense, but we got a bunch of really good players and they’re playing hard, they’re playing tough, they’re playing aggressive. If we can continue to just make people grind it out against us and not give up explosive plays, I think you can see where we’re tough to score on at times.”
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, ACU’s running backs have carried the Wildcat offense. In the matchup against the Utah Tech Trailblazers, sophomore running back Jermiah Dobbins ran the ball for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
Bouncing back and forth under center at the quarterback position for ACU has been junior Ethan Long, Arizona State transfer, and sophomore Maverick McIvor, Texas Tech transfer.
Though neither threw a touchdown pass in the team’s last game, Long threw for 8-23 for 92 yards in the first half, while McIvor took over in the second half and threw 7-12 for 148 yards. Both quarterbacks have stepped up when the other haas struggled in past games, which is something Patterson said he is proud of.
“I really like the way Maverick came in at quarterback the other night and kind of sparked us a little bit, led to a couple of scoring drives,” Patterson said. “We’re very proud of him, him and Ethan both. I’ve been very proud of both those guys the way they’ve came in, not starting the game, but come in and sparked our offense. I think it makes you better down the road and helps us build depth.”
In the series history between ACU and SFA, the Lumberjacks lead with five wins to the Wildcats’ three. Last year, SFA ran away with a 41-27 win in the lone matchup between the rivals.
ACU looks to steal a win from the Lumberjacks on the road this Saturday in Homer Bryce Stadium. The game kicks off at 6 p.m. and will stream live on ESPN+.