ACU (2-1,0-0) took their first loss of the season Saturday night when they fell just short to Incarnate Word (2-1,0-0) in a final score of 27-20.
Both teams’ defenses shined through the first three quarters, but the Cardinals took the advantage in the fourth and would hold on to beat the Wildcats.
Coming into Saturday night, ACU had won their first two games of the season looking to go 3-0 for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, UIW was ranked ninth in the FCS after a blowout win in their week two matchup.
ACU began the game with the ball and went to work. A long first drive from the Wildcats saw junior quarterback Maverick McIvor lead the offense down to the UIW three-yard line. And with the offense working well, the Wildcats elected to go for it on fourth down. However, after a nearly nine-minute opening drive, ACU would come up scoreless after failing to convert on the fourth down
That would be the only real offense shown by either team for a while as what was expected to be a high-scoring battle between the two teams, quickly turned into a defensive slugfest with both teams trading the ball back and forth.
Part of the defensive battle came on back-to-back interceptions as McIvor threw for his first INT of the season followed by a huge interception from senior defensive back Patrick Jolly in the ACU endzone to stop the Cardinals from scoring. Jolly has the team’s only two interceptions as he snagged another one last week against Prairie View A&M.
“Patrick’s having a good year,” head coach Keit Patterson said. “That’s not surprising to me I’ve been very proud of him and his development and he just gets better and better all the time.”
The Wildcats offense would take advantage of the opportunity this time. In a drive that started with a fumble that was quickly recovered by the Wildcats, junior running back Jermiah Dobbins rushed for 57 yards including an impressive 29-yard run for a touchdown to get the Wildcats on the board first.
Just as it seemed the Wildcat offense was starting to click, so was the Cardinals. The next drive, UIW quarterback Zach Calzada combined for 75 yards of offense including a 52-yard touchdown run to even the game back up.
On the next drive, after a big run from sophomore running back Jay’Veon Sunday, the Wildcats would find themselves in field goal range with less than a minute to go for sophomore kicker Kyle Ramsey to put one through the uprights from 51 yards away and retake the lead for the Wildcats.
Once again as quickly as they got down, the Cardinals stormed right back with a 49-yard pass from Calzada to put UIW in field goal range and tie the game once again heading into halftime.
“I felt like we should have gone into halftime ahead,” Patterson said. “I felt like that play, even though it was only three points, It felt like it really took some of the air out of us and some of the momentum at that particular time.”
The third quarter consisted of three straight back-to-back punts with neither team making it more than eight yards inside the other’s territory for a majority of the quarter.
On their fourth drive of the half, the Cardinals found some light as they moved the ball into the ACU red zone and on the second play of the fourth quarter, found the endzone to take their first lead of the night.
“I feel like we were a little bit shorthanded upfront,” Patterson said. “Had a couple of guys out and feel like we got worn down there a little bit and had trouble stopping them in the second half and that’s when they got to rolling a little bit.”
After a stagnant 24-second offensive outing for the Wildcats, UIW would capitalize once again as Calzada would run the ball in himself to put the Cardinals up two scores.
However, the Wildcats would not fold that easily and still had some fight left in them. ACU would cut into the UIW lead after a big 54-yard catch and run from McIvor to senior wide receiver Taelyn Williams to allow Sunday to punch the ball into the endzone on the next play.
The Cardinals quickly moved down the field into the ACU redzone on the next drive but were ultimately held to just a field goal making the score 27-17 with just over five minutes remaining.
After a big throw to sophomore wide receiver Cooper McCasland for 40 yards, the Wildcat offense would have to settle for two after a crucial penalty and a ten-yard sack.
After a failed onside kick, the Calzada and the Cardinals would start their drive on the ACU 46. The ACCU defense stayed solid and forced the Cardinals into a fourth-and-three situation with 1:39 left in the game. The Cardinals elected to test their odds and go for it.
It paid off for them as the offense converted with a 29-yard pass to seal the game and the first loss of the season for the Wildcats.
The Wildcat offense just needed to stay alive longer than they did Saturday night as McIvor ended the game 15-32 passing with 189 yards and an interception and Dobbins would not get a touch in the second half.
The ACU defense played very solid for the first three quarters but began to dwindle late into the game once the UIW offense started rolling.
“I know that defensively we gave up too many explosive plays,” Patterson said. “I just felt like we did some things we haven’t done the first two weeks, but that’s what happens whenever you play someone who knows what it takes to grind out wins and that’s what we’ve got to become.”
Although the Wildcats fell just short, many positives can be taken from Saturday night as the Wildcats finished with only five penalty flags on the night and stayed wire-to-wire with a top-ten team in the FCS for the entire game.
“The good news is, we still have an opportunity to win the conference,” Patterson said. “Sure you want to win for what that would have done for us in terms of national exposure, but it’s a process. It’s about developing a championship level mindset and it takes time to do that. We’ve got to continue to move the needle when it comes to that and start doing the things it takes to win those types of games
The Wildcats begin that championship opportunity when they head to Arkansas this weekend for the program’s first ever UAC matchup when it takes on Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. this Saturday.