Monday, October 31, 2011

Booth Review: Little Brother, Big Numbers

Abilene Christian and Texas A&M-Commerce each lived up to its name Saturday: the former demonstrating that it is indeed better to give than receive, and the latter exercising the kind of free trade that even NAFTA couldn't have conjured up.

The two teams turned the ball over five times apiece in a bumbling, 40-28 ACU victory that at once moved the Wildcats (6-2) closer to becoming a playoff team while casting serious doubt as to whether or not they legitimately resemble one.

But looks can sometimes deceive. Daryl Richardson is living proof. The senior running back bears in his physical appearance a striking similarity to his older brother, Bernard Scott and, as of Saturday, now has a resume that few others besides Scott can match.

Saturday against Commerce, Richardson rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns. The first, a 78-yard 1st quarter sprint down the visitors' sideline, tied him with Scott's and his first cousin, Edmond Gates, for the third most total TDs in ACU history. The second, a 46-yard burst up the middle, gave him sole possession of a very distant third behind Scott and Wilbert Montgomery.

I don't know of anyone who thinks of Richardson as one of the best backs in ACU history, probably in part because he isn't even the best runner in his own family and at times since arriving in 2009 hasn't even been thought of as the best on his own team. But crunch the following numbers and then tell me what you think:
  • 32 games
  • 30 rushing TDs (Wilbert Montgomery, 66; and Scott, 63)
  • 33 total TDs (Montgomery, 76; and Scott, 73)
  • 2,012 rushing yards (9th all-time) on 406 carries (4.95 yards/rush)
  • 661 receiving yards on 74 catches
  • 2,673 all-purpose yards
Those aren't empty stats either. Richardson scored the game-winning touchdown this year against Tarleton State and both Midwestern State and West Texas A&M last year - not to mention a boatload of big afternoons and nights, including 10 multiple-touchdown games.

If Richardson's body of work sneaks up on you like it did me, perhaps it's because his physical body looks so much like Scott's and, therefore, we subconsciously compare the production of one to the other. Which, of course, is completely unfair. There likely will never be another Bernard Scott - at ACU or anywhere in Division II.

Richardson came to ACU from Cisco Junior College in 2009. He arrived on campus rather incognito, in part because his cognito wasn't "Scott." Word began spreading prior to August training camp that Bernard's baby brother had joined the team, but there was nothing on the preseason depth chart to give Richardson away. There were no Scotts (the brothers have the same parents, but Bernard has his mother's maiden name). There were no running backs from Vernon (Richardson played high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla., where he lived with his father).

And there was no guarantee how much playing time he'd get. Richardson was merely one of three running backs brought in for the 2009 season to try to fill the Grand Canyon of a hole left by Scott (now with the Cincinnati Bengals), who in two seasons became ACU's all-time leading rusher with 4,321 yards and scored 73 touchdowns - three fewer than Wilbert Montgomery's school record.

Richardson wasn't even the most highly-touted of the three new backs in '09. The rage was over Justin Johnson, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma where he'd played in 10 games, including the one for the national championship that OU lost to Florida, 24-14. It was Johnson who got the start in the season opener against Northwest Missouri State on national television. Unfortunately, he was barely Sooner said than done. Played just seven games, had only one touchdown - albeit big, a 100-yard kickoff return to help ACU rally past Eastern New Mexico - and quit the team.

Richardson would be the third running back to see playing time in that first game after Johnson and Reggie Brown. Only then was Richardson's cover blown. You could tell from his face and physique, if not his first few plays (9 rushes for 28 yards, 3 catches for 10 in that season opener), which one was Baby Bernard.

It wasn't long before he showed a similarly uncanny knack for finding the end zone. Richardson scored his first two ACU touchdowns in the second game of 2009 and two more the next week against Commerce in a soggy Cotton Bowl en route to a 17 TD (16 rushing) season, which was the second most in the LSC that year.

Perhaps most amazing about Richardson's productivity is that at no point in his nearly three seasons has he been the clear No. 1 starter - in part because of a variety of minor but nagging injuries. Whereas Scott carried the ball nearly five times as much as any other teammate, Richardson essentially split the workload with Reggie Brown 50-50 in 2009 and only accounted for one-third of the team's rushes last season. This year, even after starting the season with a sore hamstring, he's finally become the featured back, carrying 92 of the team's approximately 200 called run plays.

The season opener against Tarleton might actually be a microcosm of his ACU career. Slowed by the bad hammy, Richardson didn't get a single carry that night and didn't even enter the game until the first play of the 4th quarter. That play was a 27-yard swing pass to Richardson from QB Mitchell Gale. ACU's last offensive play of the night? A desperation shot-put from a scrambling Gale to Richardson, who turned it into a 23-yard touchdown with 1:09 to go that proved to be the game winner. Two touches, two dynamic plays - yet not quite as healthy as a horse needs to be for an offense to really take off.

I have a feeling history will be more flattering than our present perceptions, and record book ink may prove more indelible than any image Richardson leaves in our minds' eyes.

Like I wrote after the Angelo State game about letting this offense become whatever it will become instead of comparing it to the juggernauts of past years, I hope we can appreciate what we're seeing in Daryl Richardson.

The irony is this: the more he resembles his big brother the rest of this season, the more ACU will resemble a playoff team.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halftime Stats for ACU-Commerce

  • Score: ACU 30, A&M-C 7
  • First Downs: A&M-C 10, ACU 7
  • Rushing: ACU 16 for 144 yards, A&M-C 22 for 71 yards
  • Passing: ACU 9 of 15 for 118 yards, 1 INT and 1 TD, A&M-C 14 of 31 for 93 yards, 2 INTs and 0 TDs
  • Total Offense: ACU 262 yards, A&M-C 164 yards
  • Time of Possession: A&M-C 18:25, ACU 11:35
  • Third-Down Conversions: ACU 2 of 6, A&M-C 1 of 13
  • Red-Zone Scores-Chances: ACU 1 of 1, A&M-C 0 of 2
  • Penalties: A&M-C 3 for 10 yards, ACU 3 for 45 yards
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 19 of 15 for 118 yards, 1 INT and 1 TD
  • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 8 for 147 yards and 2 TDs; Charcandrick West, 4 for 4 yards
  • Receiving: Daryl Richardson, 2 for 29 yards; Justin Andrews, 2 for 8 yards; Darian Hogg, 1 for 35 yards and 1 TD; and Ben Gibbs, 1 for 29 yards
  • Defense: Aston Whiteside, 6 tackles and .5 sacks; Thor Woerner, 5 tackles; L.B. Suggs, 4 tackles; Justin Stewart, 4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 INT; and Mike Wallace, 1 INT
  • NOTES: Lion junior quarterback J.J. Harp played his first two seasons at Eastern New Mexico. First time in memory that ACU had no passing yards in a first quarter, although Mitchell Gale was 9 of 15 in the second. Eight turnovers for the two teams in a messy first half: 4 for each team. Marcus Graham is the Lions' leading rusher with 8 carries for 37 yards. Tyler Rawlings leads his team in receiving with 4 catches for 46 yards and 1 TD. ACU scored 30 consecutive points to start the game, after twice allowing Midwestern State to score 35 unanswered points last week in a 70-28 loss to the Mustangs.

End of Q2: ACU 30, A&M-Commerce 7

Morgan Lineberry booted a 21-yard field goal with 10:10 remaining to up the ACU lead to 17-0.

On the Lions' next drive, J.J. Harp was intercepted by ACU safety Matt Wallace, who returned it 46 yards for a Wildcat TD with 9:21 left. Lineberry's PAT increased ACU's led to 24-0.

Taylor Fore, who intercepted a Wildcat pass in the first quarter, fumbled a Wildcat punt with 5 minutes left in the half. It only took one play for ACU to score again: a 35-yard pass from Mitchell Gale to wide receiver Darian Hogg. Lineberry's PAT hit the goal post, but the new score was 30-0.

The Lions missed a 31-yard field goal when Jacob O'Neil's kick hit the left upright with 2:21 remaining. ACU took over, but turned the ball over on its second play when wide receiver DeMarcus Thompson caught a pass from Gale and fumbled, giving A&M-Commerce good field position at the Wildcat 24.

Harp converted the turnover into 6 points when Harp completed a 20-yard TD pass to wide receiver Tyler Rawlings, and O'Neil's PAT cut the ACU lead to 30-7 with 1:16 left.

The first half was messy: eight turnovers, four by each team. A&M-Commerce led in first downs (10-7) and total plays (53-31), but not in much else. ACU prevailed in total yards (262-164) and on the scorecard (30-7). Gale was 9 of 15 for 118 yards and a TD, overcoming a first quarter in which he had had no passing yards on two attempts. Richardson had 147 yards on eight carries, and two TDs. Each team had three penalties. The Lions converted only one of 13 third-down plays.

End of Q1: ACU 14, A&M-Commerce 0

ACU's first possession ended on the second play when quarterback Mitchell Gale's pass to tight end Ben Gibbs bounced off his hands and into those of Texas A&M-Commerce's Marcus Fore.

One play after a Lion punt, running back Daryl Richardson got ACU on the scoreboard when he ran 78 yards around right end for a TD with 11:57 remaining. Morgan Lineberry's successful PAT put the Wildcats on top, 7-0.

ACU's next possession ended on the second play when Gale was sacked and fumbled at the Wildcat 38. But six plays later, the Wildcats returned the favor, sacking Lion quarterback J.J. Harp and causing him to fumble at the ACU 30.

Three plays later, Richardson set sail again on a long TD run, this one 46 yards. Lineberry's PAT made the score 14-0.

With 2:19 remaining, Harp was intercepted by ACU's L.B. Suggs at the Wildcat 15, and the junior from Cedar Hill returned it to the Wildcat 40-yard line.

At the end of the quarter, ACU had zero passing yards: Gale was 0 for 2 for 0 yards and 1 interception. However, Richardson had five carries for 146 yards and two TDs. The Lions had 6 first downs to ACU's 3, but trailed 14-0.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Booth Review: ACU've Got Mail

The New Pony Express galloped into Wichita Falls Saturday night with a message. It was delivered personally to ACU but addressed to the entire Lone Star Conference and consisted of this solitary line:

There's a new sheriff in town.

The Midwestern State Mustangs, they of the nation's No. 1-ranked offense - not to mention that catchy, aforementioned nickname - rode over, around and through the ACU defense and didn't stop until they had laid a whoopin', the likes of which the Wildcat football program had never in 90+ years suffered.

The 70-28 rout - it was every bit as dominant as that score would indicate - leaves Midwestern alone in first place in the Lone Star Conference. Barring a loss to West Texas A&M in two weeks, the Mustangs will unseat ACU as conference champs. They earned it Saturday night.

70 points! The most ACU has ever surrendered in a non-overtime game.

740 yards of total offense! The most an ACU team has ever allowed in any game - overtime, playoff, Xbox 360.

And make no mistake: this wasn't about an emotional letdown or resting on the laurels from the big Homecoming win over West Texas A&M the previous Saturday. The Wildcat offense actually won the toss, elected to receive and marched 80 yards in six plays for a 7-0 lead. No, this was about a Midwestern State offense that none of its seven opponents have come close to even slowing down, much less stopping.

That the Mustangs have now run roughshod over a playoff-caliber opponent - its previous opponents' record was 15-26 - drives the message home at an ear-splitting decibel level.

After processing what happened Saturday night, it would seem to me that the only defense capable of slowing this team down is one that is excessively large (and, thus, less likely to get thrown to the curb like yesterday's trash) or exceptionally fast (and, thus, able to catch Mustang runners when they get to the edges). ACU's defense is neither small nor slow but neither are they really big and really fast.

Five Midwestern runners gashed ACU for 436 rushing yards in every way imaginable. Senior Lester Bush is the bowling ball who steers clear of the gutters and runs straight for the head pin. Freshman Jimmy Pipkin, who at 6'0" looks even a foot taller, is the edge rusher who hurdled a Wildcat defender on an eye-popping 45-yard dash. Sophomore Keidrick Jackson isn't as picky: he can beat you north and south or around the corner.

The offensive line, led by a projected early-round NFL draft pick in Amini Silatolu, is ginormous and quick, opening holes for the runners and providing plenty of protection in the passing game.

But Brandon Kelsey is the trigger man. The junior QB rushed for 114 yards - including a 64-yard scamper on 2nd and 9 after ACU had cut the lead to 35-14 early in the 3rd quarter. He also threw for a very efficient 205 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

I said on the play-by-play broadcast Saturday night that if there is a better team in the country, I'd like to see it. As of now at least, there isn't one better in Super Region 4. The first regional rankings of the 2011 season were released Monday and Midwestern is No. 1 at 7-0. ACU is currently No. 5 and, with the top six at season's end making the playoffs, still in position to reach the postseason for a sixth straight year.

But a second straight conference title and third in four years was most likely marked "Return to Sender" after what the New Pony Express brought Saturday. The change of address in conference champions has nothing to do with character and effort. ACU exhibited those qualities even in that record-setting defeat.

What Midwestern proved Saturday is that this year's Lone Star Conference is all about the horses.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Final Stats: MSU 70, ACU 28

  • Score: MSU 70, ACU 28
  • Attendance: 9,821
  • First Downs: ACU 31, MS 29
  • Rushing: MSU 48 for 436 yards, ACU 24 for 134 yards
  • Passing: ACU 32 of 56 for 413 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT; MSU 17 of 25 for 304 yards and 4 TDs
  • Total Offense: MSU 740, ACU 547
  • Time of Possession: MSU 33:13, ACU 26:47
  • Third-Down Conversions: MSU 6 of 9, ACU 5 of 15
  • Red-Zone Scores-Chances: MSU 8 of 8, ACU 2 of 4
  • Penalties: MSU 13 for 129 yards, ACU 8 for 79 yards
  • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 32 of 56 for 413 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT
  • Rushing: Charcandrick West, 9 for 81 yards and 1 TD; Daryl Richardson, 9 for 45 yards; Reggie Brown, 2 for 6 yards; and Mitchell Gale, 3 for 3 yards
  • Receiving: Taylor Gabriel, 10 for 138 yards and 3 TDs; Demarcus Thompson, 4 for 48 yards; Daryl Richardson, 4 for 35 yards; and Darian Hogg, 4 for 19 yards
  • All-purpose: Charcandrick West, 253 yards; Taylor Gabriel, 161 yards
  • Punting: Spencer Covey, 4 for 139 yards and 34.8-yard average
  • Defense: L.B. Suggs and Darien Williams, 9 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 8 tackles; Ryan Smith, 6 tackles; and Aston Whiteside, 5 tackles and 1 blocked PAT
  • NOTES: ACU opened each half the same way: scoring a touchdown, then surrendering 35 points to the Mustangs. The two teams combined for 1,287 yards of offense. MSU averaged 10.1 yards per play. Mustang quarterback Brandon Kelsey ran for 114 yards, and completed 16 of 24 pases for 205 yards and 3 TDs. Three MSU players ran for 90 or more yards: Keidrick Jackson (129), Kelsey (114) and Jimmy Pipkin (94). Vernon Johnson caught 2 passes for 109 yards, one of them a 99-yarder to close his team's scoring. Entering the game, MSU was No. 2 in the nation in rushing offense, and ACU was No. 4 in the nation in run defense.
  • Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Final: MSU 70, ACU 28

    Mitchell Gale threw his third touchdown pass of the game to Taylor Gabriel with 13:03 remaining, and Morgan Lineberry's kick shortened the MSU lead to 49-21. The 8-play, 77-yard drive took 2:27 off the clock.

    ACU's onside kick was recovered by Chris Summers at its own 43-yard line, but the Wildcats not take advantage.

    MSU upped hits lead to 56-21 with 8:47 left when Keidrick Jackson ran 2 yards for another TD. Saladino's PAT was good.

    ACU answered back in a quick drive, helped by Charcandrick West's 43-yard run with 7:47 left – a one-minute, six-play, 80-yard drive. Lineberry's kick made it 56-28.

    MSU did not change gears, only players. Peter Smith ran 1 yard for another TD with 2:20 left, and Vernon Johnson caught a 99-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Jake Glover with 56 seconds remaining.

    End of Q3: Midwestern 49, ACU 14

    MSU punted on its first drive, a good sign.

    After a 23-yard punt return by Taylor Gabriel, ACU began the second half the same way it began the first half, with a Mitchell Gale touchdown pass to Gabriel. This one was for 24 yards, ending a 5-play, 59-yard drive in only 1 minute. The PAT by Morgan Lineberry was good, making the new score 35-14.

    Not a good sign: MSU regained its advantage quickly, moving 80 yards in six plays, capped by a 1-yard run by Keidrick Jackson at the 9:18 mark. Saladino's kick was good, making the new score 42-14.

    ACU advanced to the MSU 9 on the ensuing drive, but Gale was sacked on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Mustangs.

    MSU's Jimmy Pipkins scored his second TD of the game on a 28-yard run with 38 seconds left in the quarter. The 91-yard drive consumed 5:33 and took 11 plays. Another Saladino kick put the Mustangs further ahead, 49-14.

    Halftime Stats for ACU-MSU

    • Score: MSU 35, ACU 7
    • First Downs: MSU 18, ACU 15
    • Rushing: MSU 22 for 206 yards, ACU 8 for 26 yards
    • Passing: MSU 12 of 17 for 156 yards and 3 TDs, ACU 18 of 31 for 230 yards and 1 TD
    • Total Offense: MSU 362 yards, ACU 256 yards
    • Time of Possession: MSU 16:11, ACU 13:49
    • Third Down Conversions: MSU 4 of 5, ACU 2 of 7
    • Penalties: MSU 5 for 40 yards, ACU 4 for 39 yards
    • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 18 of 31 or 230 yards and 1 TD
    • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 5 for 16 yards; Reggie Brown, 2 for 6 yards; and Mitchell Gale, 1 for 4 yards
    • Receiving: Taylor Gabriel, 6 for 85 yards and 1 TD; Daryl Richardson, 4 for 35 yards; Reggie Brown, 2 for 14 yards; and Jamaine Sherman, 2 for 9 yards
    • Defense: L.B. Suggs, 5 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 4 tackles; and Nate Bailey, Mike Wallace, Ryan Smith and Derek Drummond, 3 tackles each.
    • NOTES: ACU has no answer for MSU's rushing attack, which has outgained it, 206 yards to 26. And it needs a ground game of its own, or at least a way to control the clock and score while keeping the Mustangs off the scoreboard. MSU gets to the end zone quickly. Keidrick Jackson (70 yards, 10 yards per carry), Jimmy Pipkin (52 yards, 17.3 yards per carry), Lester Bush (48 yards, 6 yards per carry) and Brandon Kelsey (36 yards, 9 yards per carry) are a four-man wrecking crew on the ground.

    End of Q2: Midwestern 35, ACU 7

    MSU finished another drive with a TD less than 2 minutes into the second quarter, with quarterback Brandon Kelsey scoring on an 11-yard run. The PAT was blocked by ACU's Aston Whiteside, but the Mustangs led 20-7.

    The Mustangs scored their 28th straight point of the game with 8:16 left when Kelsey threw a 5-yard TD pass to Edgard Theilar. MSU's 2-point conversion was successful: a Kelsey pass to wide receiver Sheldon Galloway. The 6-play, 75-yard drive was fueled by a 45-yard highlight-reel run by Jimmy Pipkin, and consumed 3:11.

    The MSU scoring parade continued on its next possession, a 6-play, 78-yard drive culminating with a 16-yard TD pass from Kelsey to Theliar with 2:45 remaining. The PAT by Saladino gave the Mustangs a 35-7 lead.

    MSU punted for the first time in the game with 1:04 remaining.

    End of Q1: Midwestern 14, ACU 7

    The opening drive was energized by a 49-yard pass play from quarterback Mitchell Gale to wide receiver Darrell Cantu-Harkless. Gale capped it with a 17-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel at 13:54. Morgan Lineberry's successful PAT put ACU on top, 7-0. The 6-play drive covered 80 yards in 1:06.

    Midwestern State is only allowing its opponents an average of 6.5 points per first half, so that's a good early sign.

    MSU moved crisply down the field on its first drive, scoring when quarterback Brandon Kelsey threw a 9-yard pass to wide receiver Edgard Theliar in the back of the end zone. Greg Saladino's successful PAT tied the score at 7-7 with 10:56 remaining.

    On ACU's next drive, Gale's pass on fourth and 2 at the MSU 26 was tipped and intercepted by Bernard Griffin at the Mustangs' 17-yard line.

    MSU then went on an 11-play, 83-yard drive, with Keidrick Johnson's 1-yard TD run and Saladino's PAT putting the Mustangs on top, 14-7 with 3:30 left.

    First-quarter stats showed the Mustangs outgaining ACU in total yards, 164-150. Gale was 10 of 17 for 150 yards, and MSU's Kelsey was 8 of 10 for 107 yards and one TD. The Wildcats were outgained on the ground, 57-9, with the Mustangs' Lester Bush leading the way with 42 yards.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Final: ACU 28, Wes Texas A&M 18

    Morgan Lineberry's 52-yard field goal attempt fell short with 11:25 remaining in the game.

    ACU punter Spencer Covey fumbled a snap from center that was recovered by the Buffs at the Wildcat 9-yard line with 8:38 left.

    On the ensuing play, WT's Dustin Vaughan threw a TD pass to Brittan Golden. The Buffs faked the PAT and ran it in for 2 points, cutting the ACU lead to 21-18.

    After a 39-yard kickoff return by Charcandrick West, Mitchell Gale engineered his team's own 1-play drive, hitting fullback Justin Andrews over the middle with a pass, and the junior from Fort Worth raced 53 yards for a TD with 8:21 left. Morgan Lineberry's PAT gave ACU a new lead, 28-18.

    End of Q3: ACU 21, West Texas A&M 10

    ACU went on another long march – 97 yards – to up its lead to 21-10 over the Buffs. The 17-play drive consumed 6:06 off the clock and was capped by Jamaine Sherman's leaping catch in the left corner of the end zone of an 18-yard pass.

    The Wildcat defense came up with a big play late in the quarter when WT was trying to convert a 4th and 4 from the ACU 12-yard line. Sophomore linebacker Thor Woerner tipped a pass from Dustin Vaughan, causing it to fall incomplete, giving ACU the ball back and thwarting a potential scoring drive for the Buffs.

    Halftime Stats for ACU-WTA&M

    • Score: ACU 14, WT 10
    • First Downs: WT 14, ACU 5
    • Rushing: ACU 16 for 27 yards, WT 11 for 31 yards
    • Passing: ACU 6 of 10 for 169 yards; WT 18 of 32 for 225 yards and 1 TD
    • Total Offense: WT 256, ACU 196
    • Time of Possession: WT 16:29, ACU 13:31
    • Third Down Conversions: WT 3 of 9, ACU 1 of 6
    • Penalties: ACU 4 for 30 yards, WT 5 for 35 yards
    • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 6 of 10 for 169 yards
    • Rushing: Reggie Brown, 4 for 19 yards and 1 TD; Daryl Richardson, 5 for 16 yards and 1 TD; and Taylor Gabriel, 1 for 1 yard
    • Receiving: Ben Gibbs, 2 for 87 yards; Taylor Gabriel 1 for 40 yards; Reggie Brown 1 for 19 yards; and Justin Andrews, 1 for 18 yards
    • Defense: L.B. Suggs, 6 tackles; Darien Williams, 5 tackles; Derek Odelusi, 4 tackles; and Donald Moore, 3 tackles
    • NOTES: For the Buffs, Dustin Vaughan has completed 18 of 32 passes for 225 yards and 1 TD; Tommy Hampton has rushed 5 times fro 27 yards; and Jeremy Watson has three catches for 61 yards and 1 TD.

    End of Q2: ACU 14, West Texas A&M 10

    ACU scored when running back Daryl Richardson plowed up the middle for three yards and a touchdown with 10:22 left in the second quarter. Morgan Lineberry's successful PAT gave the Wildcats the lead, 7-3. The six-play, 99-yard drive's big moment was a 75-yard catch and run by tight end Ben Gibbs, who snared a Mitchell Gale throw over the middle and raced downfield on one of the longest pass plays you'll see from a tight end.

    The Wildcats forced a WT fumble on the ensuing drive, then took only four plays to move 75 yards downfield and score again. Running back Reggie Brown bulled his way up the middle for 4 yards and the TD. Lineberry's second PAT of the game was good, and ACU led 14-3 with 7:36 remaining.

    WT scored its first TD when quarterback Dustin Vaughan threw a 17-yard TD pass to Brittan Golden with 3:04 left. The PAT by Castillo cut the ACU lead to 14-10.

    SUMMARY: Although ACU leads 14-10, West Texas A&M is on top in several statistical categories. The Buffs lead in first downs (14 to 5), total yards (256 to 195), passing yards (225 to 169) and possession time (16:29 to 13:31). Both defenses have been hard on the running games; WT has rushed 11 times for 31 yards and ACU has 16 for 27 yards. Mitchell Gale has completed 6 of 10 passes for 169 yards. Ben Gibbs has caught 2 of them for 87 yards. The Wildcats have sacked WT quarterback Dustin Vaughan three times.

    End of Q1: West Texas A&M 3, ACU 0

    If this game is going to be another in a long line of offensive shootouts, it will need to get moving. The two teams, both with 4-1 overall and unblemished records in the Lone Star Conference, traded punts throughout the first quarter.

    ACU's defense seemed to find its sea legs last week in a 36-7 win over Eastern New Mexico, and West Texas A&M has been among the national leaders in scoring and team defense all season. They are both playing defense aggressively today, and have sacked each other's quarterback twice in the first quarter.

    West Texas A&M got on the scoreboard first with 3:29 left when Sergio Castillo Jr. kicked a 44-yard field goal.

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Booth Review: Digging the Defense

    In Blackwater Draw, the same archaeological site in eastern New Mexico where scientists have unearthed evidence of ancient human civilization, another more recent artifact was discovered Saturday: the ACU defense.

    After being gouged for nearly 1,000 yards combined in home wins over Angelo State (503 yards gained) and Western Oregon (474), the Wildcat defensive unit neutered a Greyhound offense that entered the game as one of the most prolific in all of Division II.

    Eastern was held to 142 fewer passing yards, 129 fewer yards of total offense and seven fewer first downs than it had been averaging this season and 16 fewer points than its previously lowest point total. In fact, ENMU hadn't been held to as few as seven points since 2007.

    Like the last two weeks, ACU was missing two key defensive contributors - linebackers Jesse Harper (out for the year with a knee injury) and Cy Wilson (the coaches still hope he can return at some point); unlike the last two weeks, the ACU defense did most of its damage without any help from the opponent in the way of easy drops or stupid penalties.

    The linebackers who did play - Derek Odelusi, Derek Drummond, Thor Woerner, Chris Summers, Nick Richardson, Nate Baggs, Lynn Grady and Justin Stephens (first career interception) - were terrific, both in stuffing the run and clogging up passing lanes in the middle of the field. ENMU's Wesley Wood, the nation's third leading passer, averaged a piddling 4.4 yards for each of his 44 attempts.

    Even the linebacker who didn't play linebacker, reserve Chris Jones, was disruptive. Knowing how crazy fast Eastern likes to play - think of an a cappella worship leader starting the next verse of a song before the one you're on is over - defensive coordinator Jason Johns shifted Jones - all 5'11", 205 pounds of him - to defensive line because of his speed. Genius. Jones wound up with a sack, a QB hurry and five total tackles even though - as sideline reporter Nick Boone told us after the game on the broadcast - the coaches had to explain his assignments, sometimes between plays.

    Last season, ACU held two opponents to seven points or less, Tarleton State (3) and East Central (7). But Tarleton was missing its stud quarterback (Tennessee transfer Nick Stephens) because of injury and East Central was, well, East Central. Saturday's performance was the most dominant by an ACU defense against a good offense since 2009 when the 'Cats limited Midwestern State, which was led by D2's most efficient quarterback Zack Eskridge, to 15 and 21 points in consecutive weeks and suffocated a potent Tarleton State team into -27 yards rushing and only 172 yards of total offense, 75 of which came on a single go-for-broke play in the final five minutes that allowed the Texans to escape with a 13-6 victory.

    The offense continued to play well. Make it three straight games with no turnovers (a first in the Chris Thomsen era) and at least five offensive touchdowns. But it was the defense that served notice of its ability to stop a good team. Which is good because two more are on deck: this weekend against West Texas A&M at home and the following Saturday at Midwestern State. With those two teams and ACU unbeaten in the Lone Star Conference, nothing less than the conference championship is at stake.

    Blackwater Draw is in the rearview mirror. The Wildcat defense must continue to dig deep.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Final: ACU 36, ENMU 7

    Reggie Brown capped a 62-yard, 10-play drive when he high-stepped 9 yards up the middle to give ACU a 36-7 lead with 11:04 left. Morgan Lineberry missed his second PAT of the afternoon.

    End of Q3: ACU 30, ENMU 7

    ACU freshman linebacker Justin Stephens intercepted a pass from Wesley Wood at the Greyhound 18-yard line and returned it to the 14. Three plays later, Mitchell hit a wide-open Darrell Cantu-Harkless over the middle with a 13-yard TD pass that gave the Wildcats a 27-7 lead with 12:19 left in the third quarter. The PAT by Morgan Lineberry was wide left.

    Reggie Brown was the workhorse on ACU's next scoring drive with his 43 yards of rushing. The offense stalled at the ENMU 7, but Lineberry kicked a 24-yard field goal to push ACU's lead to 30-7 with 1:34 remaining.

    Halftime Stats for ACU-ENMU

    • Score: ACU 21, ENMU 7
    • First Downs: ACU 14, ENMU 11
    • Rushing: ACU 9 for 40 yards, ENMU 12 for 44 yards
    • Passing: ACU 15 of 23 for 200 yards and 2 TDS; ENMU 18 of 26 for 156 yards and 1 TD
    • Total Offense: ACU 240, ENMU 200
    • Time of Possession: ACU 12:47, ENMU 17:13
    • Third Down Conversions: ACU 5 of 7, ENMU 3 of 8
    • Penalties: ACU 5 for 32 yards, ENMU 4 for 40 yards
    • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 15 of 23 for 200 yards and 2 TDs
    • Rushing: Reggie Brown, 5 for 26 yards; Mitchell Gale, 1 for 11 yards; and Daryl Richardson, 3 for 3 yards
    • Receiving: Darrell Cantu-Harkless, 6 for 79 yards; Taylor Gabriel, 4 for 74 yards and 1 TD; Ben Gibbs, 2 for 21 yards and 1 TD; Justin Andrews, 1 for 12 yards; Daryl Richardson, 1 for 11 yards; and Darian Hogg, 1 for 3 yards
    • Defense: Derek Odelusi, 5 tackles and 1 sack; Darien Williams, 5 tackles; Thor Woerner, 4 tackles; and Nick Richardson, 3 tackles
    • NOTES: For the Greyhounds, Wesley Wood has completed 18 of 26 yards for 156 yards and 1 TD, and is his team's leading rusher as well with 6 carries for 24 yards; and Chase Kyser ( 3 catches for 54 yards) and Drian Dale (4 catches for 28 yards) are the leading receivers.

    End of Q2: ACU 21, ENMU 7

    ACU tight end Ben Gibbs caught a 2-yard TD pass from Mitchell Gale with 12:16 remaining in the first half. Morgan Lineberry's PAT made the score 14-7. One of the penalties on the 12-play, 87-yard drive negated a TD run by Darrell Cantu-Harkless.

    ENMU used its short-range passing game to move deep into ACU territory, but the drive stalled and then ended when Taylor Cannon missed a 26-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining.

    ACU scored again when senior running back Daryl Richardson dove into the end zone from the 1-yard line at the 4:47 mark. The drive featured a 48-yard catch and run from Taylor Gabriel, who caught a pass over the middle from Gale and nearly scored before he was knocked out of bounds just short of the ENMU goal line. Lineberry's PAT gave the Wildcats a 21-7 lead.

    Both quarterbacks had a productive first half. Gale completed 15 of 23 passes for 200 yards and 2 TDs, and Wesley Wood completed 18 of 26 for 156 yards and 1 TD. ENMU is having a hard time covering Cantu-Harkless (six catches for 79 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (four receptions for 74 yards and a TD).

    End of Q1: ACU 7, ENMU 7

    Eastern New Mexico, which passes on nearly every down, scored on its second drive of the game when Wesley Wood hit Michael Matthews with an 8-yard TD pass with 8:38 left in the first quarter. A successful PAT by Taylor Cannon put the Greyhounds on top, 7-0. The four-play, 47-yard drive was set up after ENMU pinned ACU deep in its end of the field after a good defensive stand, and forced the Wildcats to punt.

    ACU responded on its ensuing possession with an almost identical five-play, 57-yard drive. It ended successfully when Wildcat quarterback Mitchell Gale tossed a 10-yard TD pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who caught the ball in the right flat and dove inside the goal-line pylon. Morgan Lineberry's PAT tied the game at 7-7 at the 5:54 mark.

    The Wildcats were driving at mid-field when the quarter ended.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Booth Review: Good Night and Good Luck

    ACU 51 Western Oregon 35
    If you've ever played golf with someone who doinked a tee shot off a tree and had it roll back into the fairway - in other words, if you've NEVER played golf with me - you've probably heard it said, "Better to be lucky than good."

    Four games into the 2011 season, it would appear the ACU football team is both lucky AND good.

    They're certainly not a great team yet. Great teams don't surrender 1,000 yards of offense in two games, including 833 through the air.

    They're not bad either. Bad teams don't protect the football in two straight games, run and throw with equal success, hang half a hundred (+1) on an opponent, make huge stops in the red zone and have a 3-1 record.

    What they are is good. And lucky.

    I generally agree with those who say good teams make their own luck and those who suggest the better you are, the luckier you get. For example, if an opposing receiver gets alligator arms and doesn't make a catch because he knows he's about to get clobbered by Richard Havins, I'd suggest that's making your own luck.

    But consider the following breaks the 'Cats have caught in each of their three wins:

    ACU 27 Tarleton State 24. The Texans missed two makeable field goals (from 34 and 46 yards) in a game ACU rallied to win in the final minute.

    ACU 31 Angelo State 17. Sophomore QB Blake Hamblin threw for 446 yards and it could've easily been 500+ had Ram receivers not had more drops than a cell phone on Ranger Hill. One of those was in the end zone forcing ASU to settle for a field goal. ACU won by 14, but the game would've been very different had Angelo simply held on to the football.

    ACU 51 Western Oregon 35. Like Angelo, WOU had a severe case of dropsy. And in both cases, I'm talking about balls that real live rams and wolves could've caught with their hooves and paws. The zebras helped ACU, too. In the last two minutes of the first half Saturday, Taylor Gabriel went to a knee to field a WOU punt. He got up and began running, and the officials let him go, even though replays showed he should've been down at his own 27. The 35-yard return to the Wolves' 38-yard line gave the 'Cats a short field. Six plays later, Mitchell Gale rumbled up the middle for what the head linesman ruled a touchdown despite the fact that Gale's knee hit the turf at the 1. Replays weren't as conclusive as they were on the punt, but again it appeared ACU caught a break.

    Maybe ACU would've reached the end zone without the benefit of those two favorable rulings. Or maybe not. It's harder for anyone to go 73 yards in 90 seconds than 38.

    In the second half, ACU did what good teams do: they capitalized on their fortune, blowing open a tight game in the third quarter with 24 points en route to a runaway win.

    Good. Lucky. Don't misinterpret what I'm saying as a knock on who and what ACU is right now. Nearly every winning team in any sport is both. The New England Patriots are a very solid 3-1 after a comfortable 31-19 win in Oakland Sunday. But it wasn't so comfy in the closing seconds of the first half with the Raiders down 14-10 but threatening to take the lead when QB Jason Campbell lobbed a perfect spiral...into the hands of Pats' safety Patrick Chung. New England scored the next 10 points of the game and was never threatened.

    And don't forget, North Alabama's only touchdown of the second half against ACU two weeks ago - the one that ultimately proved to be the game-winner - began when a ball that was stripped from Darian Hogg's clutches bounced into the clear where superstar cornerback Janoris Jenkins scooped it up and took it into the end zone. A good play by UNA forced the turnover; a lucky bounce helped turn it into a score.

    In golf, it may be better to be lucky than good. In football, there's no shame in being both.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    Final: ACU 51, Western Oregon 35

    ACU widened its lead to 48-28 when Morgan Lineberry kicked his second field goal of the game, a 22-yarder with 8:55 remaining.

    Lineberry struck again with 2 minutes left with another field goal, this time of 33 yards, pushing the Wildcat lead to 51-28.

    With four seconds left, WOU's Evan Mozzochi tossed a 14-yard scoring pass to Tyrell Williams. Josh Morgan's PAT made the final score 51-35.

    End of Q3: ACU 45, Western Oregon 28

    Morgan Lineberry kicked a 45-yard field goal with 8:27 remaining in the quarter to open ACU's lead to 24-14.

    On the first play of the ensuing drive, WOU quarterback Evan Mozzochi threw a 73-yard TD pass to a wide-open Josh McFarland. Sixteen seconds after ACU's score, the Wolves closed the gap to 24-21.

    The Wildcats fired right back 75 seconds later, when Mitchell Gale completed a 47-yard TD pass to a leaping Darian Hogg in the right corner of the end zone. Lineberry's PAT made the new score 31-21, capping a 4-play, 59-yard drive.

    ACU wide receiver Taylor Gabriel turned in his second breathtaking punt return of the night with 5:56 left when he went 55 yards for a TD. Lineberry's PAT put ACU further ahead, 38-21.

    Western Oregon answered with a six-play, 69-yard drive. Running back Adryn Allen sprinted 20 yards for a TD with 3:37 left, and Kelly Morgan's PAT made it a 10-point game, 38-28.

    The track meet continued on ACU's next possession when Darrel Cantu-Harkless caught a pass over the middle from Gale and outraced the defense 61 yards for another Wildcat TD with 1:36 left in the quarter. Lineberry's PAT grew the ACU lead back to 45-28.

    Halftime Stats for ACU-Western Oregon

    • Score: ACU 21, WOU 14
    • First Downs: ACU 11, WOU 13
    • Rushing: ACU 16 for 72 yards, WOU 20 for 53 yards
    • Passing: ACU 14 of 23 for 140 yards; WOU 13 of 20 for 205 yards and 1 TD
    • Total Offense: ACU 212, WOU 258
    • Time of Possession: ACU 16:17, WOU 13:43
    • Third Down Conversions: ACU 3 of 8, WOU 4 of 8
    • Penalties: WOU 3 for 28 yards, ACU 2 for 30 yards
    • Passing: Mitchell Gale, 14 of 23 for 140 yards
    • Rushing: Daryl Richardson, 10 for 60 yards and 1 TD; Reggie Brown, 2 for 8 yards; and Mitchell Gale, 3 for 4 yards
    • Receiving: Taylor Gabriel, 4 for 64 yards; Jamaine Sherman, 4 for 31 yards; Darian Hogg, 2 for 22 yards; and Daryl Richardson, 2 for 7 yards
    • Defense: Derek Odelusi, 7 tackles and 1 sack; Richard Havins, 6 tackles; Mike Wallace, 5 tackles; and Nate Bailey, 4 tackles
    • NOTES: For the Wolves, Evan Mozzochi has completed 12 of 18 passes for 189 yards and 1 TD; Kenneth Haynes has 11 carries for 48 yards and 1 TD; and Trevor Gates is the leading receiver with 5 catches for 79 yards.

    End of Q2: ACU 21, Western Oregon 14

    Daryl Richardson showed some flashy moves in running untouched around left end for 22 yards and a touchdown with 8:16 left in the second quarter. Morgan Lineberry's PAT was good, giving ACU a 14-7 advantage at the end of a seven-play, 67-yard drive.

    Western Oregon drew even with 5:48 left in the half when quarterback Evan Mozzochi threw a 23-yard scoring pass to tight end Scott Buche. Kelly Morgan's PAT made the new score 14-14. It was another long drive (91 yards, 11 plays) for the Wolves.

    A scintillating 35-yard punt return by Taylor Gabriel put the Wildcats on the 38-yard line of the Wolves with 1:38 remaining. Six plays later, quarterback Mitchell Gale ran up the middle for seven yards and a TD that put his team back on top. Lineberry's PAT made the new score 21-14 with 25 seconds remaining.

    End of Q1: ACU 7, Western Oregon 7

    ACU linebacker Thor Woerner recovered a fumble by Western Oregon wide receiver Josh McFarland on the Wildcat 44 to give his team a turnover just three plays into the first quarter. Linebacker Richard Havins forced the fumble after McFarland had caught a pass from quarterback Evan Mozzochi, one of two signal-callers the Wolves rotate in their offensive scheme. Both are big ol' boys: Mozzochi is 6-4, 230 and Cory Bean is 6-5, 245.

    On fourth and one from the 1-yard line, running back Reggie Brown ran untouched into the end zone for ACU's opening score. Morgan Lineberry's successful PAT gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 9:19 left.

    After the teams traded punts, UWO went on a seven-play, 90-yard drive, capped by a 2-yard run by Kenneth Haynes with 1:19 left in the quarter. Kelly Morgan's PAT evened the score at 7-7.

    The Wolves' attempt at an onside kick on the next play went awry when the ball bounced out of bounds, giving ACU possession at the UWO 45-yard line. Penalties, however, pushed the Wildcats back into their own territory, ending the drive.

    Thus far, it's an evenly played game between two one-loss teams, as the scoreboard indicates.