The I-20 rivalry was renewed in Stephenville on Saturday, but it was ACU (6-3, 3-0) who ended up taking home a conference win against the Tarleton Texans (5-4, 1-2) on Saturday, 28-23.
The win gave the Wildcats their third win in Western Athletic Conference, keeping them undefeated in conference play so far. The team also ascended to the top place in the conference standings, after the former top team, Stephen F. Austin, fell to Utah Tech, 44-47. The win also gives the chance to earn a bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which would be the first time in ACU’s Division I history to do so.
Even with the chance of making history, head coach Keith Patterson emphasized how important it is for his squad to stay focused on the present and improving themselves.
“More than anything, we need to not start looking towards a championship or not trying to to make the playoffs, but staying focused on what has gotten us to this point,” Patterson said. “Things like being able to manage distractions and to continue to stay hungry to improve each week.”
The Wildcats came out swinging on Saturday, seeing their first touchdown in their first offensive possession of the game.
ACU’s defense first denied Tarleton a touchdown on their first possession after a standoff at the ACU one-yard line. Then sophomore quarterback Maverick McIvor ran a jet sweep option, passing it junior wide receiver Davion Johnson, who ran the ball down the field for what became an 80-yard touchdown pass.
“Hats off to them, they had a great plan, and they were taking what we were giving them,” Patterson said. “It was shaky, but we did not panic, and this team, no matter who we are playing, respond well when we get down. So for us to be able to force that missed field goal after the drive deep into our territory was really a confidence booster and got us into the game and excited.”
After that first possession, the remainder of the first half was back and forth, with both the Wildcats and Texans both scoring touchdowns and the Texans adding a field goal. At halftime, ACU took a 14-10 lead to the locker room.
Tarleton proved to be the only team to score in the third quarter, after Texan quarterback Beau Allen ran a two-yard shovel pass for a touchdown to wide receiver Shawn McFarland. This gave the Texans their first and only lead of the game at 17-14.
What proved to be the game changer was a 14-point swing in the fourth quarter in favor of the Wildcats. ACU started the final 15 minutes with McIvor throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Kobe Clark and senior running back Anthony Smith punching in a two-yard run into the endzone following a 76-yard scoring drive.
“If you look at what we have done in the fourth quarter all season long, we’ve outscored our opponents,” Patterson said. “We just finish the game strong. We come into the game with a 60-minute mentality, and I think our team gets stronger and more confident as we go.”
Tarleton went on to score a touchdown with 2:12 left, but failed a two-point conversion to give ACU a five point lead. After the Wildcats recovered an onside kick attempt, the Wildcats were able to run out the clock courtesy of four runs made by freshman running back Rovaughn Banks Jr., securing ACU’s 28-23 win.
Banks Jr. finished leading ACU in rushing yards, earning 34 yards of ACU’s total 68 rushing yards. Sophomore wide receiver Tristan Golightly led the Wildcats with 117 receiving yards, with Clark following closely with 115 receiving yards, while also having two touchdowns.
As for McIvor, he went on to finish Saturday night with 24 completions for 385 yards, a new career-high for the sophomore quarterback. He also finished the night passing for three touchdowns while throwing for two interceptions.
“Every week, we try to take what our opponents give us, and this week, it allowed Maverick to throw the ball,” Patterson said. “Our passing was good, Maverick was really spreading the ball around. In this case, since they loaded the box, we threw it, and if they had lightened the box, then we would have taken what they gave us.”
Up next, the Wildcats hit the road for the final time in the regular season as they head to Huntsville to take on Sam Houston State. The game will kick off at 12 p.m., with the game streaming live on ESPN+.