Head coach Keith Patterson’s Wildcats (5-2, 2-0) were able to pull out a tense 21-18 Homecoming victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in front of 10,229 Wildcat fans.
Another tight Western Athletic Conference battle was in store for the Wildcats as they led by as many as 11 in the fourth, but won by three. ACU is now 5-2 for the first time since 2011, two years prior to the Div. I era. The first Homecoming for Patterson was never easy and said his team knew SUU was never going away and fought till the end.
“Homecoming is always about managing everything that’s going on outside the football game,” Patterson said. “But I thought we had a good week of preparation, and all the way up until this morning, I mean, injuries. Not making any excuses at all, hats off to Southern Utah. I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Both teams started slowly until safety Peyton Mansell, senior from Belton, lined up at punter. He faked the punt and took off for a 46-yard run on fourth and eight. Running back Jermiah Dobbins, sophomore from Lubbock, capped off the fake punt with a 15-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Dobbins’ opening drive score for ACU was their first since the Lamar game on Sept. 1.
ACU led 7-0 after the first quarter on Homecoming behind the seventh touchdown in three weeks from Dobbins. Prior to Saturday, ACU had been outscored 59-20 in the first quarter and held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter for the first time of the year.
Dobbins eclipsed 1,000 career yards last week at Stephen F. Austin and now has 1,086 yards on his career. In addition to the feat, he has 639 yards this year which is good enough for the sixth-best single season rushing season in ACU’s Div. I era.
Southern Utah scored first in the second quarter with a field goal with 3:19 remaining to cut the Wildcats lead to four. Quarterback Maverick McIvor, sophomore from San Angelo, and the Wildcats then put together a seven play 75 yard drive in under two minutes to head into halftime with a 14-3 lead.
“I told our guys all day, ‘I don’t care what the score is, it’s going 60 minutes,” Patterson said. “You better prepare yourself for 60 minutes of football.’ That’s exactly what it was. I’ve said it over and over again, winning is hard and you can never take it for granted and you have to continue. You can’t get tired of doing things right and preparation and doing all the things that it takes to win.”
Wide receiver Kobe Clark, senior from Sweetwater, found himself in the end zone on a seven yard pass from McIvor. Clark finished the half with four catches for 24 yards and a touchdown, bringing his all time total to 240 receptions.
“Over the past two years, we haven’t started off as good as we have this year,” Clark said. “But being 4-0 at home, that’s just an awesome feeling to me. Coach KP’s preached that all year. It’s just important to get the fans here and if we’re winning games, most likely the fans are going to keep coming.”
The Thunderbirds started the second half strong with a three play 95 yard drive in over a minute to make the score 14-10 with 5:42 left. McIvor’s offense was unable to combat the score and after three, ACU led 14-10.
Defense started the fourth quarter with an interception from safety Elijah Moffett, sophomore from Selma. Offensive coordinator Stephen Lee’s offense roared back with a touchdown from running back Rovaughn Banks, freshman out of Tulsa. On the next ACU drive, SUU started to swing the momentum with a goal line stand with 5:40 to play. Momentum continued with the Thunderbirds blocking an ACU punt and scoring on the ensuing drive.
A converted two-point play after the touchdown cut ACU’s lead to three, 21-18 with little time remaining. McIvor and the offense ran the clock out and walked away with the win. Last week against Tarleton, the Thunderbirds scored 26 in the fourth quarter to come back and lose by only two.
“That’s the sign of a well-coached football team,” Patterson said. “They had some bad things happen to them against Tarleton but just stayed in it and had the ball with a chance to go win at the end of the game. So hats off to those guys. I knew they were going to be very well-coached. I knew it was going to be a tough, tough game.”
Mansell’s 46-yard run on a fake punt on a 4th and 8 proved to be the key turning point of the matchup. After the game, he and his wife Sidney, a former ACU softball pitcher, held a gender reveal and are having a girl.
“We’ve got to utilize his skill set,” Patterson said. “I mean, he’s a threat. He can throw it, he can run it, he can kick it. We’re just sitting here talking and he told me, he said, ‘Coach, I was an all state punter.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ So we put that in two weeks ago and you would have seen it again if we had to punt that way.”
Now, ACU heads into a bye week before taking on the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Oct. 29. Patterson said his team needed this break to be fully healthy for the final stretch of the year.
“It’s a mental grind,” Patterson said. “It’s more mental than it is the physical part of it. Our kids are beat up. You go all fall camp and you go for seven weeks straight, man. This week couldn’t come at a better time. I’m excited for our kids to get healed up and get ready for this final stretch.”
ACU (5-2, 2-0) heads to Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota to take on the University of North Dakota (4-2, 3-1) on Oct. 29 at 3 p.m.