Nov. 22, 2008

 

ABILENE – The ACU Wildcats heard all week how hard it would be for them to beat West Texas A&M twice in one season.

They heard from West Texas A&M that Saturday’s playoff game would be different than the encounter in October in which the Wildcats walked out of Canyon with a 52-35.  Too many injuries to key players, the Buffs contended, and their return would make all the difference in the playoff contest.

The one thing the Buffs probably didn’t count on was  the ACU offense putting on the greatest single-game performance in the 77-year history of the Lone Star Conference, and one of the greatest in NCAA Division II history.

The Wildcats posted a school-record 810 yards of total offense and scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 possessions on their way to a remarkable 93-68 win over the Buffaloes in front of 11,797 fans at Shotwell Stadium.  The win sends the second-ranked Wildcats (11-0) into the NCAA Division II quarterfinals for the first time in program history.  ACU will host Northwest Missouri State at noon Saturday in a rematch of the season-opener that the Wildcats won, 44-27, in Maryville, Mo.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like that; it was phenomenal,” ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said of his team’s offensive effort against the Buffs.  “Every one of those guys sold out (today) to make it happen for us.  Everyone told us how hard it was going to be to beat a good team twice in one season, and it was.  But our guys never lost faith or stopped believing in themselves .”

As usual, the player that made it all go for the Wildcats was senior running back Bernard Scott, who outdid himself with 292 yards and six touchdowns rushing and another 61 yards and one touchdown on the ground.  His seven touchdowns are NCAA playoff-game, LSC and ACU single-game records, as are the 42 points he scored.

Voting for the Harlon Hill Trophy – given annually to the top player in NCAA Division II football – continues through next Saturday, but Scott might have sealed his victory with his performance Saturday.  At least he sealed it in the mind of his head coach.

“In my mind, he sealed that thing a long time ago,” Thomsen said.  “But I don’t have a vote.”

West Texas A&M head coach Don Carthel doesn’t have a vote, either, but he was left very impressed with Scott in general and ACU's offense in particular.

“Yes, they could win the national championship,” Carthel said when asked if ACU could win it all.  “They’ll be very difficult for anyone to beat if they execute the way they did (Saturday).”

Scott wasn’t alone in his offensive heroics as quarterback Billy Malone completed 16 of 25 passes for 383 yards and six touchdowns.  Johnny Knox caught five passes for 125 yards and the offensive line paved the way for all of it with near-flawless protection for Malone and tremendous run-blocking.

“Those guys up front did a great job of giving me space to run and holes to run through,” Scott said.  “We’re able to do a lot of things offensively because of what those guys do up front.”

The Wildcats weren’t alone, however, in putting up gawdy offensive numbers.  West Texas A&M racked up 68 points and 721 yards of offense on their own.  Quarterback Keith Null – in his final game as a Buffalo – was phenomenal, throwing for 595 yards and seven touchdowns, both of which are NCAA playoff, LSC and WTAM single-game records.

Senior receiver Charly Martin was near-unstoppable, catching 14 passes for 323 yards and five touchdowns, the last of which was a 52-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left in the game that made him WT’s all-time leading receiver.

With 161 points scored (which is an NCAA Division II record for combined points), the game very could have come down to three plays late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter.

With ACU clinging to a 35-31 lead late in the half, the Wildcats were backed up to its own 9-yard line with 1:38 left in the half and in danger of having to punt into a strong south wind, potentially leaving the Buffs a short field.  However, on third-and-10, Malone escaped pressure and scrambled for 31 yards and a first down to the Wildcat 40-yard line.

Two plays later the Wildcats faced another huge play in the game after two Malone passes went incomplete.  But on third-and-10, Scott went 17 yards on sweep right to pick up a key first down to the WT 43.  On the next play, Malone hit a wide-open Jonathan Ferguson for a 43-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-31 with 59 seconds left in the half.

WT added a field goal right before the end of the first half, and then its defense came out and stuffed the Wildcats on ACU’s opening drive of the half, forcing a punt.  But Ray Johnson fumbled Sean McGlothlin’s punt at the WT 44-yard line, giving the ball right back to the Wildcats.

The Wildcats made the Buffs pay for the game’s only turnover just four plays later when Malone hit Knox in the right corner of the end zone, pushing the Wildcat lead to 50-34 with 10:28 left in the third quarter.

After that, it was the Scott show as he scored each of the next four touchdowns for the Wildcats, reaching the end zone on a 2-yard run, a 39-yard pass from Malone and back-to-back 44-yard runs.  After his last touchdown of the day, the Wildcats led 79-54 with 21 seconds left in the third quarter.

Malone finished off the scoring in the fourth quarter with a six-yard scoring pass to Kendrick Holloway with 10:13 left in the game and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Keeling with 4:11 to play.

That sealed the Wildcats’ first trip to the quarterfinals in program history and set up the rematch with the Bearcats, this time in Abilene.

“We know how tough next Saturday will be, and what Northwest will bring with them,” Thomsen said.  “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Northwest Missouri State and what they’ve accomplished.  It’s going to take a tremendous effort by our entire team to win that game next week.”