The Wildcats (5-3, 2-0) traveled to North Dakota for their longest road trip of the year, falling 34-31 in a high scoring offensive shootout to the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (5-3).
In the week leading up to the matchup, head coach Keith Patterson knew his team could not afford little mistakes against the Football Championship Subdivision 23rd ranked Fighting Hawks.
“We knew going into the football game that it was going to be a game that you have to go win,” Patterson said. “They’re not gonna be a team that makes mistakes, they’re disciplined, they’re everything that we aspire to be as a football program.”
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the mistakes they made added up, resulting in their third loss of the season. With this being a non-conference matchup, the loss ultimately had no effect on their Western Athletic Conference record, and they still have the chance to win conference play.
The game started with ACU striking first, with sophomore quarterback Maverick McIvor leading a seven-play drive that ended in a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Kobe Clark, for his fifth touchdown on the year. The Fighting Hawks did not score their first touchdown until the second quarter, but went on to outscore ACU, 17-7, to take a narrow 20-14 lead to the locker room.
Not much scoring happened in the third quarter until the the 5:40 mark, when senior placekicker Blair Zepeda kicked his first and only field goal of the game. Then, the Wildcats and the exchanged touchdown through the remainder of the game. The final scoring play of the game came with 7:48 left on the clock, after McIvor marched ACU down the field in a five play scoring drive that lasted under two minutes.
With the score 34-31, UND got the ball back, and maintained the ball in that single possession. The Fighting Hawks gained first down after first down, and after penalties committed by ACU and successful clock management, the ranked FCS escaped with the three point win.
Penalties and turnovers were an issue for the Wildcats, costing them field position and the opportunity to score on multiple occasions. With the game being so close, and no team getting ahead by that much, it was mistakes that ACU made the Patterson said aided in determining the game’s outcome.
“I think four plays was about like a 17-point differential,” Patterson said. “There were four plays that could have swung either way, and whether it be a call or whether it be execution or something like that. It could have changed the game in one direction or the other.”
As for ACU’s offensive leader, despite throwing two interceptions on the day, McIvor helped keep the Wildcats in a highly contested game. McIvor finished the game totaling 239 passing yards and three touchdowns, his longest pass being a 32-yard throw to sophomore wide receiver Tristan Golightly, who led ACU with 82 receiving yards. After the game, Patterson praised McIvor’s ability to continually progress, despite the last game’s outcome.
“We are very proud of Maverick and the progress he is making,” Patterson said. “We got to continue to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers, which we did. We had like six or seven different receivers, so we did a nice job spreading the football around.”
The Wildcats face Tarleton next in a highly anticipated conference matchup. With the Texans sitting at a 1-2 conference record, the 2-0 Wildcats have a prime opportunity to move another step closer to their aim of earning a WAC championship title.
“We look forward to a great matchup, it’s great for the Big Country,” Patterson said. “There are two really good football teams going to play a contest on Saturday. Plus, it’s a conference matchup so our kids are very excited about that, to get back into conference play and try and build momentum.”
ACU plays the Tarleton Texans at the Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas. Kickoff is at 7:00pm, and coverage can be found on ESPN+.