Aug. 28, 2009

Courtesy ACUsports.com

ABILENE -- Fifth-ranked Abilene Christian University took advantage of three turnovers by No. 2 Northwest Missouri State to score 14 points en route to a 19-14 season-opening win over the Bearcats at Shotwell Stadium in the first game of the Champions Classic.

The first-ever nationally broadcast game from Shotwell Stadium was delayed by approximately one hour after a severe thunderstorm blew through the area. A section of bleachers on the north end of the stadium was picked up by the wind and blown onto the field, crashing through a fench above the field.

Two tents at the ACU pre-game tailgate party were destroyed by the high winds, which drove fans underneath the stands and into the press box seeking shelter.

But with a nationwide audience on CBS College Sports, Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports Houston watching, two of the top teams in NCAA Division II football finally hit the field a little after 8 p.m.

ACU -- the defending Lone Star Conference champions -- jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead and made it stand up. After Northwest gave up a safety on a bad punt snap, ACU linebacker Arthur Johnson got the scoring started when he returned a fumble by Northwest quarterback Blake Bolles 42 yards for a score, giving ACU a 9-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats stretched the lead to 16-0 with 5:59 left in the half when Clark Harrell found tight end Ben Gibbs from 24 yards out to make it a three-score game.

ACU's defense then held time and time again in the second half as the Wildcat offense -- struggling to replace quarterback Billy Malone, running back Bernard Scott and wide receiver Johnny Knox -- put up just 174 yards of total offense.

Northwest had three drives in the fourth quarter with two starting at its own 40 and 41, but ACU turned the Bearcats away each time. The Bearcats turned the ball over on downs with 10:22 left after a Bolles pass fell incomplete.

The ACU defense then forced a punt with 7:14 left, but the Wildcat offense couldn't put the game away. On fourth-and-1, Stewart rolled right on play-action but had to throw the ball out of bounds. He was whistled for grounding, giving the Bearcats the ball at their own 41-yard line with five minutes left in the contest.

After two nice runs by LaRon Council moved the ball to the ACU 35, Bolles' pass to Nick Rhodes fell incomplete before Council was held to no gain. Bolles again threw incomplete, setting up fourth-and-10 from the ACU 35 with less than 3:30 to play. Aston Whiteside then came up with the Wildcats' biggest defensive play of the night with his sack of Bolles, turning the ball over to the Wildcats with 3:08 to play.

The Wildcats were able to run the clock out on the game, extending their regular-season winning streak to 14 straight games.