The Wildcats’ (7-3, 3-0) 38-point first half stunned the Sam Houston Bearkats (5-3) on Saturday, allowing ACU to leave Huntsville with the win, 45-28.
The win gave ACU its seventh win of the season, which is the first time in the university’s Div. I history that the program has recorded seven or more wins in a season, all while being undefeated at home. According to head coach Keith Patterson, though it has been a goal, the team’s focus was not mainly on winning, but improving themselves.
“The focus has really been on just improving every single day, developing our team, growing as a unit and getting where we care about each other,” Patterson said. “When you focus on all the right things, sometimes things just click. We’re glad to be where we are our team, but we’re not satisfied by any stretch of the imagination.”
To get things started in the first quarter, the Wildcats scored 21 unanswered points. The first two touchdowns were scored after a fumble recovery on Sam Houston’s first offensive play and a blocked punt after a three-and-out on the Bearkats.
On the opening drive after the fumble recovery, junior quarterback Ethan Long, who got the starting nod since starting quarterback, sophomore Maverick McIvor, was out due to an injury, found senior wide receiver Kobe Clark for a nine-yard pass. Off the blocked punt, Long found sophomore wide receiver Tristan Golightly for an eight-yard pass into the endzone. Long and Golightly would connect again in the first quarter for an 11-yard pass to give ACU an early 21-0 lead. The Bearkats scored late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter to cut ACU’s lead to 21-14.
“Our kids were focused and excited to play a football game,” Patterson said. “Going on the road for the third straight week in a row, I was proud of just the way they came out of the gate. We started fast, which really has been something that we haven’t done consistently this season. So that was good to see a fast start, and the confidence grew from there.”
The Wildcats were held scoreless for the majority of the second quarter, but in the final three minutes of the quarter, the Wildcats took over.
ACU’s first points came from a 35-yard field goal made by senior placekicker Blair Zepeda. The very next play, ACU’s special teams forced a Sam Houston fumble on a kick return. That set up senior running back Anthony Smith for a 17-yard running touchdown. Then in the Bearkats next offensive drive junior defensive back Patrick Jolly forced an interception, which eventually led to freshman running back Rovaughn Banks Jr. to receive a two-yard pass from Long to give ACU a 38-14 halftime lead.
ACU’s 38 points in the first half was the most scored by the team this season, as well as the most points Sam Houston has allowed in an half all season.
The Bearkats tried to climb their way back in the second half when they scored two touchdowns, but with two minutes left in the game, Banks Jr. ran the ball seven yards for the final touchdown of the game.
By the game’s end, quarterback Ethan Long finished the afternoon with 262 passing yards, 30 completions and four touchdown passes, which eventually earned him WAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“I can’t say enough good things about Ethan,” Patterson said. “He has meant so much to our program since he’s came here. That’s the second time that he’s came in and he’s answered the call both times. So, we’re very proud of him.”
The Wildcat offense finished with 398 yards of total offense, with senior wide receiver Kendall Catalon leading with 78 passing yards and running back Anthony Smith leading the Wildcats’ running game with 59 total rushing yards.
Next week serves as the conclusion of the Wildcats’ regular season in a rematch against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Earlier this season, the two teams faced off in a nonconference matchup in a Nacogdoches, where the Wildcats fell 41-38. Now, the Lumberjacks head to Wildcat Stadium for a conference game that will ultimately determines who wins the Western Athletic Conference title and gives the chance to go to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“Our focus is not about revenge or how they beat us the first time,” Patterson said. “The focus is really us continuing to improve. I think we’re hitting our stride as a team at the right time. We’re playing well and on both sides of the football now we’re playing complementary football. We’re just continuing to get better as a team and I still don’t think we’ve played our best football yet.”
The Wildcats’ final game of the regular season against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., with the game streaming live on ESPN+.