A win against Stephen F. Austin would have secured the Western Athletic Conference for ACU, and ACU led 21-13 after three quarters. But the Wildcats fell 24-21.
SFA scored 11 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take home the WAC trophy. Head coach Keith Patterson’s squad knew what was on the line against SFA as they lost earlier in the year to them, 41-38. Heading into Saturday, a win would have given ACU a chance at the FCS playoffs and a WAC title.
“I told my guys in the locker room, ‘Hey, you don’t have to hang your head,'” Patterson said. “You can walk out of here and say you’ve accomplished some things and you’ve positioned ourselves now to go out and recruit and not just sell hope anymore.’ We can say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got things moving in the right direction here and ask you if you’ll be a part of it.’ We’re going to play for championships. We just did today. We’re going to continue to do that and we look forward to it.'”
ACU struck first with 2:41 to play in the first quarter on a two yard pass from wide receiver Kendall Catalon to tight end Colt Cooper. Offensive coordinator Stephen Lee’s creative play featured a pitch from quarterback Maverick McIvor to Catalon, who then threw to Cooper. The Wildcats led 7-0 at the end of one due to the trickery and several defensive stops.
Both defenses were stout in the second quarter, however SFA tied the game with 10:01 to play on a nine play 68 yard drive in four minutes. At the end of the first half, both teams were gridlocked at seven.
“My heart hurts for these young men right now,” Patterson said. “Because I just know the amount of time and commitment and work that they put in to position themselves to win a football game. It really came down to about three plays.”
In the third quarter, both teams came out swinging as the Wildcats offense axed the Jacks to score first with 9:46 to play. Catalon caught a four-yard pass from McIvor for his second touchdown of the day. The Lumberjacks then scored quickly but ACU’s special teams blocked the extra point to maintain a 14-13 lead. Trickery ensued for ACU once again as a McIvor connected on a 32-yard double reverse pass to Cooper for his second touchdown of the day. SFA drove down the field but ACU’s special teams once again blocked a field goal and recovered it. The Wildcats led 21-13 at the end of three.
SFA found its way with a 24-21 lead with 2:43 left in the fourth quarter. SFA’s kicker made a 46-yard field goal to cut ACU’s lead 21-16 with 8:30 remaining. ACU could not respond as SFA’s quarterback Trae Self scampered into the end zone on a 12 yard run to lead 22-21 before finishing with a successful two-point conversion. McIvor and the ACU offense were unable to convert a fourth-and-five with 1:16 remaining as the Wildcats fell 24-21.
“There’s a lot of young men that are crying and hurt,” Patterson said. “Any time you make that kind of investment commitment and then the bonds…people don’t understand the bonds you form are going to last a lifetime. I talked about the relationships that I have with the men that I played with and how fast it’s going to go by. You are going to be 35 years old coming back and addressing these young men, these future ACU football teams. It’s important for them to be able to have a good experience and I think they did this season and obviously I’m excited about where we’re headed.”
Leading the way defensively for ACU was sophomore defensive lineman Tyrin Bradley with ten tackles, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. McIvor finished the day 25-38 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Clark caught seven of McIvor’s passes for 168 yards in his final game as a Wildcat. Clark broke the record for most catches in a career for an ACU receiver with 269.
“He’s been so consistent,” Patterson said about Clark. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of the young man. I’m happy for him in the season he had, I mean, he was by far the most consistent performer in this league this year and I’m very proud of him.”
ACU still finishes the year 7-4, its best-ever record in the Div. I era, concluding the first season under Patterson. For the 17 seniors on ACU’s roster, it’s more bittersweet. They include:
- Offensive lineman Mitchell Melrose from Whitehouse
- Offensive lineman Truett Knox from Fort Worth
- Linebacker John Brannon from Prosper
- Punter Logan Burke from Katy
- Wide receiver Kendall Catalon from Mansfield
- Wide receiver Kobe Clark from Sweetwater
- Defensive end Alexander Duke from Bellaire, Texas
- Defensive back Michael Garrett Jr. from Magnolia
- Linebacker Toriano Hargrove from Arlington
- Safety Peyton Mansell from Belton, Texas
- Defensive lineman Jordan Paup from Central City, Nebraska
- Defensive lineman Jack Schultz from Granada Hills, California
- Wide receiver Zarak Scruggs from Eatonville, Washington
- Running back Anthony Smith from Fort Worth
- Defensive back Shelby Washington from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Running back Tyrese White from Hamshire
- Defensive back Roland Williams III from Arlington, Tennessee
Now ACU heads into the offseason with key positions to fill after a historic first year for Patterson as he finished 7-4 in his first year as a head coach.
“We got some really good football players coming back on both sides of the ball next year,” Patterson said. “We’re going to lose a handful of guys on offense and a handful of guys on defense. We’re already recruiting and moving toward filling those spots and trying to always continue to upgrade our talent and people that are going to fit within our program who want to buy into all these things from character and discipline and mental toughness.”