Thursday, September 29, 2011

Booth Review: Let It Be

ACU 31 Angelo State 17
ACU beat Angelo last week as a fan base yawned.

There are 10-year-old supporters of our Dear Christian College's football team who know nothing other than double-digit victories over our nearest neighbors in the Lone Star Conference. They don't realize there was a time not long ago in a galaxy not far away when any win over the Rams - for that matter, any win over anyone - was cherished. ACU went entire presidential administrations (America's, not the university's) without beating ASU.

This is what happens when teams make winning habitual. Fans aren't satisfied with merely defeating an opponent. They begin awarding style points, as if they were all a bunch of Dick Buttons.

Some in ACU Nation were pushing Dick's cousin, "Panic," after a six-point, non-conference, out-of-region loss to North Alabama, one that - while frustrating and unimpressive - had nonetheless zero impact on where the Wildcats want to be at season's end, namely the Division II playoffs.

The Angelo win, though by two touchdowns, still didn't do it for some. Maybe you. But let's not minimize what ACU accomplished in its home opener, to wit:

1. Handed ASU its first loss.
2. Held the Rams to their fewest points of the season.
3. Again allowed fewer points than in the previous game (24 vs. Tarleton; 23 vs. UNA; 17 vs. ASU).
4. Held an opponent to 10 or fewer points in the second half for the third time this year (10 vs. TSU; 7 vs. UNA; 7 vs. ASU).
5. Had its highest point total of the year offensively.
6. Rushed 33 times for 184 yards.
7. Despite being outgained in total yards 503-418, actually outgained ASU in yards per play (6.4 on 65 plays to 5.7 for 88 plays).
8. Reduced its penalties from 14 in each of the first two games to only six for 55 yards.
9. Improved to 19-0 in the Chris Thomsen Era (since 2005) when committing no turnovers.
10. Defeated ASU for the sixth straight year.

Pretty good top ten list. Even better when you consider the 'Cats are 2-0 in the LSC and tied for first place with two future opponents: West Texas A&M (Oct. 15) and Midwestern State (Oct. 22).

Was the Angelo win a little herky jerky? Yes. Were Ram receivers open in the first half? More than an interstate truck stop. Is it of some concern that Mitchell Gale continues to struggle with the deep ball? Absolutely. Will I finish this column by phrasing every sentence in the form of a question? No.

But whatever this team is right now and evolves into later, it's a victim of the success produced by previous incarnations. If you want to lament the fact that this bunch won't look exactly like the ones in the glory years of Billy Don, Bernie, J. Knox and Clyde, that's up to you. Just remember, it also won't resemble those teams from a little further back that never beat Angelo.

I propose we let this team be what it's going to be. Hopefully, it's enough to extend the season past Thanksgiving. In the meantime, let's be thankful for what it is now: unbeaten in the conference, playing at home this weekend on what should be a beautiful night for football and a team littered with really good players and even better young men who are being trained by a coaching staff committed to making sure they're where they need to be - on the field and off.

Enjoy this team and enjoy the ride. And remember, this isn't figure skating. Leave the judge's pencil at home. Don't be a Dick Button.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Final stats: ACU 31, Angelo State 17

  • Score: ACU 31, ASU 17
  • Attendance: 6,837
  • First Downs: ASU 32, ACU 23
  • Rushing: ACU 33 for 184 yards, ASU 21 for 57 yards
  • Passing: ASU 39 of 67 for 446 yards, 2 INTs and 2 TDs; ACU 18 of 32 for 234 yards and 2 TDs
  • Total Offense: ASU 503, ACU 418
  • Time of Possession: ASU 30:29, ACU 29:31
  • Third Down Conversions: ASU 8 of 16, ACU 7 of 12
  • Penalties: ASU 6 for 55 yards, ACU 6 for 55 yards
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 18 of 32 for 234 yards and 2 TDs
  • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 18 for 84 yards and 2 TDs; Taylor Gabriel, 1 for 45 yards; Reggie Brown, 7 for 35 yards; Mitchell Gale, 3 for 10 yards; Charcandrick West, 3 for 8 yards; and Justin Andrews, 1 for 2 yards
  • Receiving: Ben Gibbs, 5 for 53 yards and 1 TD; Daryl Richardson, 3 for 43 yards; Darian Hogg, 3 for 42 yards, Justin Andrews, 3 for 40 yards and 1 TD; Taylor Gabriel, 3 for 28 yards; and Darrell Cantu-Harkless, 1 for 28 yards
  • All-purpose: Daryl Richardson, 127 yards; Taylor Gabriel, 73 yards; Caleb Withrow, 55 yards; and Ben Gibbs, 53 yards
  • Punting: Spencer Covey, 3 for 139 yards and 46.3-yard average
  • Defense: Darien Williams, 10 tackles; Richard Havins, 7 tackles; L.B. Suggs, 7 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 6 tackles; Nathan Baggs, 5 tackles, 1 sack; Thor Woeener, 4 tackles; Chris Summers, 4 tackles, 1 INT; and Derek Drummond, 4 tackles, 1 INT
  • NOTES: The 67 passes thrown by ASU quarterback Blake Hamblin are the most ever attempted against the Wildcats, breaking the record 64 attempts by West Texas A&M in a 93-68 loss to ACU in the 2008 NCAA Division II playoffs. Hamblin completed 39 of them for 446 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs. ACU defenders were credited with breaking up 6 of Hamblin's passes and hurrying him on 6 others. They threw Ram runners for losses on 6 plays, causing a loss of 34 yards.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Final: ACU 31, Angelo State 17

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel showed his speed on a 45-yard end-around on ACU's first drive of the fourth quarter. Four plays later, tight end Ben Gibbs caught a 7-yard pass from Mitchell Gale and Morgan Lineberry's fourth PAT of the game gave ACU a 31-10 lead with 9:31 left.

ASU ended its scoring drought at 5:29 of the final quarter when Blake Hamblin tossed a 21-yard scoring pass to Nate Bayless. Jarred Martin's PAT was good, cutting the Wildcat lead to 31-17.

Angelo State's short kickoff was recovered by the Rams at the ACU 41. A sack by linebacker Nathan Boggs stopped a third-down play deep in Wildcat territory, and ACU stopped a fourth-down play to regain possession.

End of Q3: ACU 24, Angelo State 10

ACU scored its third TD of the game when Mitchell Gale hit fullback Justin Andrews on a 7-yard swing pass in the right flat, and the junior from Fort Worth dove just inside the pylon in the end zone. Morgan Lineberry's PAT made the new score 24-10 in favor of the Wildcats at 12:36 of the quarter.

One Ram drive ended deep in ACU territory; Derek Drummond intercepted Blake Hamblin's pass at the Wildcat 8-yard line and returned it to the 16, but ACU was not able to capitalize on the turnover.

SUMMARY: ACU overtook Angelo State in total offense, 325-312, and only allowed the Rams 23 yards of rushing in the third quarter. Daryl Richardson has 83 yards on 15 carries, and Mitchell Gale is 15 of 29 for 208 yards and 1 TD.

Halftime Stats for ACU-Angelo State

  • Score: ACU 17, ASU 10
  • First Downs: ACU 10, ASU 16
  • Rushing: ACU 17 for 75 yards, ASU 10 for 30 yards
  • Passing: ACU 9 of 15 for 129 yards; ASU 20 of 31 for 203 yards and 1 TD
  • Total Offense: ACU 204, ASU 233
  • Time of Possession: ACU 14:30, ASU 14:52
  • Third Down Conversions: ACU 5 of 7, ASU 3 of 7
  • Penalties: ASU 4 for 29 yards, ACU 2 for 10 yards
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 9 of 15 for 129 yards
  • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 9 for 60 yards and 2 TDs; Reggie Brown, 3 for 14 yards
  • Receiving: Ben Gibbs, 3 for 38 yards; Justin Andrews, 2 for 33 yards; Darian Hogg, 2 for 31 yards; and Darrell Cantu-Harkless, 1 for 28 yards
  • Defense: Darien Williams, 6 tackles; Derek Drummond, 4 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 4 tackles; Nick Richardson, 2 tackles and 1 sack

End of Q2: ACU 17, Angelo State 10

ACU roared down the field on an 8-play, 70-yard, 3-minute drive to start the second quarter. Along the way, Daryl Richardson ripped off runs of 22 and 20 yards, the latter of which was good for the Wildcats' second TD of the game. Morgan Lineberry's PAT put ACU on top, 14-0, with 12:48 remaining.

Another ACU drive stalled at the Rams' 10-yard line, but Lineberry kicked a 20-yard field at the 3:11 mark to pad the Wildcat lead to 17-10.

SUMMARY: The ASU Rams were held scoreless in the second quarter but look to be up to this challenge, and is vastly improved over last season. They lead in total yards (233-204) and first downs (16-10). Stephen Covey's three kickoffs all resulted in touchbacks for the Wildcats. Daryl Richardson leads all rushers with 60 yards (and two TDs). Ben Gibbs has 3 catches for 38 yards. Mitchell Gale has completed 9 of 15 passes for 129 yards. ASU's Blake Hamblin has completed 20 of 31 passes for 203 yards and a TD.

End of Q1: Angelo State 10, ACU 7

Angelo State marched down the field on an 80-yard drive to open the game. ASU quarterback Blake Hamblin hit wide receiver Joey Knight with a 29-yard TD pass on the right sideline, and he ran untouched into the end zone. Jarred Martin's successful PAT put the Rams on top, 7-0, at 11:10 of the first quarter.

ACU moved crisply to a TD on its first possession, capped by a 1-yard run by Daryl Richardson with 5:28 left, and Morgan Lineberry's successful PAT. Tight end Ben Gibbs kept the drive moving and put his team in the red zone with a nifty one-handed grab of a 9-yard pass from quarterback Mitchell Gale.

ASU moved easily downfield on its second possession, until the Wildcat defense finally stiffened when the Rams reached the ACU 2-yard-line. Angelo State had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Martin that built a 10-7 Ram lead with :48 seconds remaining.

SUMMARY: The Rams, 3-0 on the season against teams with a combined 1-8 record, looked pretty savvy against the nation's 10th-ranked team during this game's first 15 minutes of play. ACU's offense appeared solid and business-like on its only drive of the quarter; running back Daryl Richardson has regained his form and ASU seemingly has no answer yet for covering tight end Ben Gibbs. The Wildcat defense is going to have to start playing up to its reputation, however. Perhaps it will find some inspiration in its last stand of the first quarter.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Final Stats: North Alabama 23, ACU 17

  • Score: UNA 23, ACU 17
  • First Downs: ACU 27, UNA 19
  • Rushing: UNA 34 for 108 yards; ACU 26 for 103 yards
  • Passing: ACU 33 of 59 for 390 yards, 2 INTs and 2 TDs; UNA 22 of 37 for 240 yards and 1 TD
  • Total Offense: ACU 493, UNA 348
  • Time of Possession: ACU 30:01, UNA 28:17
  • Third Down Conversions: ACU 4 of 14, UNA 5 of 16
  • Penalties: UNA 13 for 125 yards, ACU 14 for 109 yards
  • Fumbles (number-lost): ACU 2-2, UNA 3-1
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 33 of 59 for 390 yards, 2 INTs and 2 TDs
  • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 10 for 63 yards and 1 TD, Taylor Gabriel, 1 for 13 yards; Reggie Brown, 5 for 11 yards; and Mitchell Gale, 8 for 10 yards
  • Receiving: Taylor Gabriel, 8 for 135 yards and 2 TDs; Daryl Richardson, 7 for 59 yards; Darrell Cantu-Harkless 5 for 71 yards; Ben Gibbs, 4 for 37 yards; and Darian Hogg, 4 for 17 yards
  • Defense: Thor Woerner, 10 tackles, 1 pass break-up; Richard Havins, 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup; Derek Odelusi, 7 tackles; Derek Drummond, 6 tackles; and Ryan Smith, 5 tackles, 1 sack
  • Notes: UNA's leading offensive players were Lee Chapple (22 of 37 passes for 240 yards and 1 TD), Antwan Ivey (12 rushes for 67 yards and 1 TD and 3 passes for 73 yards), Wes Holland (9 rushes for 58 yards) and Mo Milliam (7 catches for 62 yards and 1 TD). UNA sacked Mitchell Gale 3 times and ACU sacked Lee Chapple once. Two of Spencer Cover's 3 kickoffs were touchbacks; he led the nation in touchbacks in 2010. The 27 penalties assessed to both teams contributed to the game lasting 3 hours and 35 minutes.

Final: North Alabama 23, ACU 17

Sensing victory, the Lions turned to a time-eating ground game. When Mo Milliam caught a 3-yard pass from Lee Chapple and attempted to score with 5:09 left, he fumbled, and ACU's Lee Suggs recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

ACU's Mitchell Gale proceeded to lead his team 80 yards down the field and into the end zone, capping the drive when he passed five yards to Taylor Gabriel with 1:42 left. Morgan Lineberry's PAT was good, pulling the Wildcats to within six points, 23-17.

UNA recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

End of Q3: North Alabama 23, ACU 10

North Alabama went on a 61-yard drive to open the second half, but Lion senior Nathan O’Jibway – one of the biggest kickers you'll see at 6-3, 260 pounds – missed a 36-yard field goal attempt with 11:38 left.

ACU wide receiver Darian Hogg caught a pass and fumbled it at the UNA 45-yard line. The Lions' Janoris Jenkins picked up the ball and returned it 49 yards for a TD with 3:13 remaining. The PAT by Josh Montgomery was good, and UNA led 23-10.

Halftime Stats for ACU-UNA

  • Score: UNA 16, ACU 10
  • First Downs: ACU 17, UNA 9
  • Rushing: ACU 17 for 93 yards, UNA 12 for 43 yards
  • Passing: ACU 14 of 35 for 249 yards, 2 INTs and 1 TD; UNA 13 of 21 for 176 yards and 1 TD
  • Total Offense: ACU 342, UNA 219
  • Time of Possession: ACU 18:34, UNA 11:26
  • Third Down Conversions: ACU 3 of 9, UNA 2 of 7
  • Penalties: UNA 5 for 45 yards, ACU 9 for 69 yards
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 14 of 35 for 249 yards, 2 INTs and 1 TD
  • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 7 for 52 yards and 1 TD; Taylor Gabriel, 1 for 13 yards;
  • Receiving: Darrell Cantu-Harkless, 5 for 71 yards; Taylor Gabriel, 3 for 60 yards; Darian Hogg, 3 for 22 yards; and Daryl Richardson, 2 for 25 yards
  • Defense: Thor Woerner, 4 tackles; Darien Williams, 4 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 4 tackles; and Richard Havins, 3 tackles
  • Notes: ACU has yet to return a punt or kickoff. UNA's two interceptions of Mitchell Gale were key defensive plays of the first half. Antwan Ivey is UNA's leading rusher with 7 carries for 42 yards and 1 TD. He also has caught three passes for 73 yards.

End of Q2: North Alabama 16, ACU 10

Both teams' strong defensive units took over in the second quarter, and ACU's offense came alive.

ACU went on a long – 12-play, 96-yard – drive late in the first half, with Mitchell Gale tossing a 17-yard pass over the middle to sophomore wide receiver Tony Gabriel with 4:46 left. Morgan Lineberry's PAT was successful, cutting the UNA lead to 16-7.

With senior running back Daryl Richardson doing his best impersonation of his brother, Cincinnati Bengals RB Bernard Scott, ACU moved smartly down the field (10 plays, 55 yards) for another score. Lineberry booted a 27-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining.

It took two quarters for these two nationally ranked teams (ACU No. 3, UNA No. 4) to look evenly matched.

End of Q1: North Alabama 16, ACU 0

ACU has by far the largest contingent of fans attending the Lone Star Football Festival; they fill the first and second levels of the south sideline, from one end zone to another. Great turnout!

UNA scored first when Michael Schuster kicked a 45-yard field goal with 11:20 left in the first quarter.

ACU quarterback Mitchell Gale's third pass of the ensuing drive was intercepted, with UNA taking over on the Wildcat 33-yard line. The Lions struck again quickly when quarterback Lee Chapple threw a 23-yard TD pass to Tristian Purifoy, and Nathan O’Jibway's PAT was good, making the score 10-0 in favor of UNA.

ACU drove down the field but Gale threw his second interception of the game; Jonathan Byrd caught the ball at the UNA 15 and returned it 46 yards to the ACU 39. It only took the Lions three plays to get in the end zone again when Antwan Ivey ran 9 yards for another TD. The PAT failed, but UNA's lead grew to 16-0 with 5:57 left.

The Lions are big, fast and talented, but the Wildcats have hurt themselves with turnovers. Gale only threw three interceptions all of last season, but has two this afternoon.

Welcome to Jerry World

First impressions of The House That Jerry Built (Cowboys Stadium), the site of ACU's football game this afternoon with the University of North Alabama:
  • It's not too late to come on in. Plenty of good seats left in a 80,000-seat stadium.
  • The pregame party in the Dr Pepper End Zone, sponsored by the Alumni Association, is a big hit. The 750 lunch tickets were sold out earlier this week, but fans are welcome to stop by and say "How are youuuuuuuu?" to all your friends. From the looks of things here in the press box, it's packed.
  • The biggest challenge for watching (or playing) in this cavernous stadium is getting your bearings and a sense of the space. Some Texans might call it big as all outdoors, but there's a roof. The stadium covers 73 acres and 3 million square feet. The arches above soar 292 feet above the field. The roof alone consumes 660,800 square feet. It can open, but probably won't today, but if it did, it takes 12 minutes for it to do so.
  • In the first of the three games today, Midwestern State hammered Texas A&M-Commerce, 63-17, in a matchup of Lone Star Conference foes. The game following this one has Texas A&M-Kingsville playing West Texas A&M in another LSC tilt. ACU's game with North Alabama is the only non-conference game of the Lone Star Football Festival.
  • The press box is in the northwest corner of one of the end zone, high above the field. A great view, of course, but it's tempting to watch the gigantic screen suspended from the ceiling, rather than the action on the field below. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did a fine job of making a workplace for the media; hard to believe there's a better venue from which to do one's blogger thing.
  • Two former NCAA Division I head coaches are leading Division II universities in today's games. Guy Morriss is the head coach of Texas A&M-Commerce; he spent two years in the same role at the University of Kentucky (2001-02) and five seasons at Baylor University (2003-07). Terry Bowden – son Florida State coaching legend Bobby Bowden – was the head coach at Auburn University (1993-98) before accepting the head coach's position at North Alabama. In between those two jobs, he was a color commentator and studio analyst for ABC Sports.
  • ACU's Big Purple Band is here to march at halftime; the first time in 25 years it has performed on the home turf of an NFL team. The last time was Sept. 21, 1986, when the Dallas Cowboys hosted the Atlanta Falcons. Former ACU band director John L. Whitwell (’65), director of bands emeritus of Michigan State University, will guest-conduct the Big Purple while it plays the national anthem.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Booth Review: Surviving Pur-Palooza

ACU 27 Tarleton State 24
Shortly after laying waste to several pounds of meat at Hard Eight BBQ in Stephenville late Thursday afternoon, your intrepid Wildcat broadcast team (Lance Fleming, Michael Bacon and me) waddled into the Memorial Stadium parking lot just in time to hear the musical stylings of Matt Wayne & Company as they serenaded students at Tarleton State's tailgate party known as Texan Alley.

"THAT'S why we need an on-campus stadium," Lance said.

It was a groovy scene, to be sure. Loud music, good food, fired-up fans. As we walked through the gate and up the stairs to the press box, we heard someone on stage - presumably Matt Wayne, himself, or perhaps someone in his Company - say:

"This next song is about goin' down to Mexico to buy marijuana and try to bring it back to the states!"

Okay, so we still need an on-campus stadium. Just maybe not that band.

Playing Tarleton in any sport is always a little peculiar to the eye. Because both schools' colors are purple and white, the games against them tend to look like intrasquad scrimmages. And after sauteeing in the frying pan that was Memorial Stadium for better than three hours Thursday night, I still couldn't tell much of a difference between the two.

The score showed ACU won, 27-24, by way of Daryl Richardson's Bernard-esque 23-yard touchdown catch-juke-and-dash with 1:09 to play in the 4th quarter, relentless pressure from the Wildcats' defensive line and Nate Bailey's goal-line interception on the game's final play.

But, as the score and those aforementioned details would suggest, the game could have gone either way.

Both teams looked ragged. ACU's offense frequently appeared confused in its substitutions. Tarleton committed four drive-extending personal fouls and coach Cary Fowler seemed to spend more time on the field barking at the officials than talking to his own players.

Both teams are clearly talented. Texans QB Nick Stephens, a former starter at Tennessee who was injured and didn't play in his team's 65-3 loss in Abilene last year, is humongous at 6-5, 230. He made a lot of big throws, often with large humans in purple helmets bearing down on him. Wildcats sophomore RB Charcandrick West partially blocked a punt in the 1st quarter and turned a short pass into a 41-yard touchdown reception down the far sideline. University of Maryland transfer LB Derek Drummond looked like a D1 player with an interception at the goal line and a sack in his first game in an ACU uniform.

More than anything it seemed each was determined to keep the other in the game. ACU had 14 penalties, mostly false starts and illegal procedures from a group breaking in six new starters. It felt like 114. I commented on the air that it was the second time this week ACU had staged a Parade of Flags. Sadly, none from cool places like the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Only yellow ones that meant ACU had to move backward. Meanwhile, by throwing two goal-line interceptions - in the final 30 seconds of each half - and missing two very makeable field goals, Tarleton squandered anywhere from 12-20 points.

Both teams have a lot to work on. It's just that ACU gets to work on its stuff at 1-0 - overall and, more important, in the Lone Star Conference. Forget about style points. On a night when West Texas A&M lost at home to Colorado State-Pueblo, 26-24, the only points that matter are the ones on the scoreboard. And ACU had three more than Tarleton Thursday.

A few other observations:

Mitchell Gale. Last year's player of the year finalist was 26-of-49 for 335 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. He matched his regular season interception total from 2010 in the first 47 minutes of 2011. They weren't tipped balls either. More of a combination of miscommunication and poor decision-making. He also overthrew (his bugaboo) a wide-open Taylor Gabriel on a deep route in the second half that likely would have been a touchdown and missed a couple of other receivers at different times who had gained a step on their defenders.

On the other hand, he was running for his life nearly every other play as his offensive line struggled to keep a quick-footed Tarleton defensive front at bay. He was only sacked once but was credited with 10 carries for 25 yards. When your drop-back QB is your second leading ball carrier, your backup better keep his helmet handy. To be fair, Gale was breaking in three new starters (Gabriel, Darian Hogg and Darrell Cantu-Harkless), another who has played sparingly (Austin Kessler) and two more who were suiting up for the first time (transfers Ron Gaudin and Andrew Richards). So what looks like a bad throw may have been exactly where it was supposed to be and the receiver may have been in the wrong spot.

Say this, when ACU needed a score, Gale delivered what amounted (after a holding penalty) to a 76-yard touchdown drive in the closing two minutes, capped by a heads-up forward heave to Daryl Richardson who looked very much like big brother Bernard Scott in using his strength, speed and savvy to find the end zone.

Defense. Wildcats fans have seen the team's regular season defense steadily improve through the years, only to get gouged in the postseason. ACU has given up 76 (3 OT), 45, 35 and 55 points in their last four playoff losses. Last year's defensive strength was its senior linebacking corps of Kevin Washington, Eric Edwards, Bryson Lewis, Courtney Lane and Casey Carr. I didn't call the names of this year's LBs, seniors Nate Baggs and Derek Odelusi, sophomore Thor Woerner, redshirt freshmen Cy Wilson (who did have a sack on his very first play as a Wildcat) and Nick Richardson and transfer Jesse Harper, very often. (As indicated earlier, Drummond had an exceptional game, but by the end he was lining up as a defensive tackle.)

Fortunately for ACU, its defensive line was tremendous. Ryan Smith had three of ACU's eight game-changing sacks, not to mention a heart-melting postgame testimony of how grateful he is to be at ACU and how he plays for an audience of One. And Aston Whiteside and Donald Moore were constantly in the Texans' backfield, even late in a game played in excruciating heat. It's hard to completely shut down that Texas Tech-style spread offense, and Tarleton's version gave ACU trouble. Consider that the Texans' 391 total yards and 52 yards rushing includes the -43 that goes on Stephens' ledger. (College football counts yards lost on sacks against the rushing total; the NFL takes minus sack yardage from a QB's passing yards.) So the two Tarleton RBs - Evan Robertson and Brandon Lowery (3 TDs) - actually combined to rush 21 times for 90 net yards. And Stephens threw for 339 yards. That's pretty good.

The 'Cats will see that wide open offense again this year at least twice (ENMU and WT on Oct. 8 and 15). They need to improve. Way too many blown coverages. But again, like Gale, when the defensive players had to make a play, they did.

Special teams. Spencer Covey, whom I twice during the broadcast renamed "Stephen," knows there is really only One Habit of a Highly Effective Kickoff Specialist, and that's booting the ball through the end zone. He led all of college football in touchbacks last season (39) and was 2 for his first 2 Thursday night. But when his kickoffs and punts (first year as starting punter) were returned, they came out a long way. Both coverage teams gave up a couple of biggies. And after ACU curiously attempted a 55-yard field goal into a slight breeze in the final minute of the first half, Tarleton's Tad Hill even brought back that kick (which came up short) nearly 70 yards to give the Texans a great chance to score. Junior Morgan Lineberry was 2 for 3 kicking field goals, including a clutch 39-yarder with 6:35 to go in the 4th to pull ACU within 24-20, and 3 for 3 on PATs. Covey also did a nice job corralling a couple of errant snaps to give Lineberry a good hold.

Resilience. There aren't a whole lot of teams in Division II who have played in more big games the last five seasons than ACU. Last night felt big and really it was big, especially when you consider each of the nine teams in the newly-contracted LSC plays each other this year. There is much to be said for finding a way to win, even when you haven't played your best.

But I've already said much, so I'll stop with this final caveat: season openers in football are a crap shoot. Teams, especially on the college level and even more so in Division II which perennially sees a heavy influx of D1 transfers, never exactly know what they have. Tarleton now knows it has a much better team than it had last year. We'll see whether or not what ACU has is enough to make it back to the playoffs for a sixth straight year.

I don't know if this team is good enough to make a run at a national championship, but I know this one thing for sure: you'll sooner see Matt Wayne & Company perform at Sing Song than see a Chris Thomsen team go down without a fight.

And THAT'S why we need an on-campus stadium!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Final: ACU 27, Tarleton 24

ACU was driving deep in TSU territory for what looked like a potential score, but Mitchell Gale's pass was intercepted at the Texan 3. Gale threw only three INTs last season but was picked off twice tonight.

Morgan Lineberry's 27-yard field goal with 6:15 left in the game closed the Tarleton lead to 24-20.

ACU's defense rose up, sacking TSU QB Stephens on consecutive plays with about 3 minutes remaining, forcing the Texans to punt.

Then, The Drive.

Starting at his own 34 with 2:01 remaining, Mitchell Gale led a gutsy march downfield, completing clutch passes along the way to Darian Hogg for 39 yards and Taylor Gabriel for 16 yards. On first and 10 from the Tarleton 23-yard line with 1:09 remaining, Gale scrambled up the middle before completing a shuttle pass to senior running back Daryl Richardson, who scampered in for a touchdown. Lineberry's PAT was good, and ACU had climbed what had looked for all the world as a too-tall mountain, leading 27-24.

The Texans were not through. Stephens led his team down to the ACU 5-yard line, and with 8 seconds left, chose to run one more play instead of attempting a game-tying field goal. Nate Bailey, a senior cornerback, intercepted the pass at the 3 as time expired, preserving the win.

End of Q3: Tarleton 24, ACU 17

ACU RB Charcandrick West caught a swing pass in the right flat from Mitchell Gale, and ran untouched, 41 yards, for a Wildcat TD. Morgan Lineberry's PAT attempt was good, putting ACU back on top, 17-14. That's the quick-strike offense fans have come to expect from the Wildcats.

Tarleton took advantage of good field position to march down and score again, with RB Brandon Lowery running 2 yards for a TD with 5:30 left. A successful PAT attempt by Jose Serrano helped the Texans regain the lead, 21-17.

TSU padded its lead with 54 seconds left in the quarter when Serrano booted a 27-yard field goal, making the new score 24-17.

Halftime Stats for ACU-Tarleton

    Passing: Mitchell Gale, 14 of 22 for 113 yards, 0 INTs and 1 TD
    Rushing: Taylor Gabriel, 2 for 33 yards; Reggie Brown, 10 for 27 yards; Mitchell Gale, 4 for 26 yards; and Charcandrick West, 4 for 1 yards
    Receiving: Darian Hogg, 3 for 22 yards; Darrel Cantu-Harkless, 3 for 22 yards; Taylor Gabriel, 2 for 27 yards; and Ben Gibbs, 2 for 23 yards
    Defense: L.B. Suggs, 3.5 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 3 tackles; Nathan Baggs, 3 tackles; Ryan Smith, 3 tackles, 1 sack
    Score: Tarleton 14, ACU 10
    First Downs: ACU 12; Tarleton 12
    Rushing: ACU 20 for 87 yards; Tarleton 16 for 73 yards
    Passing: ACU 14 of 22, 0 INT, 1 TD, 113 yards yards; Tarleton 13 of 19, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 sacks
    Third Down Conversions: ACU 5 of 10; Tarleton 2 of 5    Time of Possession: ACU 18:51, Tarleton 11:09
    Notes: ACU has scored both trips into the red zone; once on a TD and the other on a field goal. The Wildcats look a step slow, and TSU is fired up over its unexpected 14-10 lead at halftime. ACU's 7 penalties for 40 yards have been drive-stoppers all night. Texan quarterback Nick Stephens was sacked on two of the game's first three plays, but has recovered nicely and playing his counterpart, Mitchell Gale, even up. 

End of Q2: Tarleton 14, ACU 10

ACU's Morgan Lineberry booted a 27-yard field goal with 4:49 left in the second quarter, making the new score 10-7. The Wildcats were their own worst enemy on the penalty-filled drive, although once they entered the red zone, ACU receivers found themselves covered well by Texan defenders, leaving Mitchell Gale no one to throw to.

A nice return by TSU's Tad Hill on the ensuing kickoff gave the Texans the ball at ACU's 34-yard line. Nick Stephens threw a 13-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Brandon Lowery, and the PAT by Jose Serraro gave TSU a 14-10 lead with 2:47 left in the first half.

Morgan Lineberry's 55-yard field goal attempt in the last minute of play was short, fielded at the 1-yard line by TSU's Hill, and returned 68 yards to the Wildcat 32. The energized Texans looked ready to score once more, but ACU free safety Darien Williams intercepted a short pass by Stephens at the Wildcat 1-yard line with 22 seconds left. ACU ran out the clock to enter the locker room trailing 14-10, a surprising deficit for ACU fans and an unexpected thrill for TSU.

End of Q1: ACU 7, Tarleton State 7

ACU defenders sacked Tarleton State quarterback Nick Stephens on two of the game's first three plays, then partially blocked a punt on the next play. The Wildcats' great field position – inside the TSU 40-yard line – led to an opening score when quarterback Mitchell Gale tossed a 3-yard pass to freshman fullback Daniel Talavera in the left end zone. Morgan Lineberry's PAT was good, and ACU led, 7-0 with 8:13 left in the first quarter.

Steven Covey was back at it again on the ensuing kickoff, putting the ball in the end zone where the Texans could not return it. ACU led the nation last year in touchbacks, and technically, only took one play to regain that spot.

As stingy as ACU's defense was on the opening series, it was just as porous on the second. TSU moved down the field easily, but Jose Serrano missed a 34-yard field goal when the drive stalled.

Another long drive led to TSU running back Brandon Lowery running 5 yards for a TD with 27 seconds left in the first quarter. Serrano's PAT attempt was good, tying the game at 7-7.

Hot August Night

The only things warmer than Memorial Stadium in Stephenville, Texas, tonight are the smoker pits at the Hard Eight Barbeque. And hopefully, the Wildcats.

One hundred degree temperatures are still the norm as the hottest summer on record in Texas continues for ACU's first game of the 2011 season, a rematch of ACU and one of its chief rivals, Tarleton State University.

ACU handed a 65-3 beatdown to the Texans last fall in Shotwell Stadium, but the last time the Wildcats were in Stephenville (2009), they lost a bitter 13-6 game on a late long TD pass.

Junior quarterback Mitchell Gale was just a freshman then, and learning the ropes of leading a college football offense. He enters this game as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, after a 2010 season that saw him become a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the NCAA Division II version of the Heisman Trophy.  Throwing 38 touchdowns and only three interceptions in a 11-1 season will do that for you.

Tape your ankles and let's see what 2011 has in store for another promising Wildcat club, ranked either No. 3 or No. 4 in the nation, depending on which preseason poll you favor.