Nov. 27, 2010

Courtesy of Abilene Christian Athletics

Eric Czerniewski threw for 477 yards and six touchdowns to lead No. 8-ranked Central Missouri to a 55-41 win over No. 2-ranked Abilene Christian University in a second-round playoff game matching a pair of NCAA Division II's top offenses.

The game pitted two quarterbacks who are finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy as national player of the year, and they did not disappoint the crowd of 6,455 in Shotwell Stadium. ACU sophomore Mitchell Gale was 27 of 51 for 358 yards and five TDs, but Czerniewski, a senior, stole the show in a game that featured nearly 1,000 yards of offense. Mule wide receiver Jamorris Warren caught nine passes for 155 yards and three TDs, and Wildcat wide receiver Edmund Gates caught 6 passes for 117 yards and one score.

As it did the week before in scorching Texas A&M-Kingsville, UCM took a 21-0 first-quarter lead and never surrendered it while scoring 55 points again on an opponent from the Lone Star Conference. ACU, which finished the season 11-1 after winning the LSC, cut a 29-point UCM lead in the second quarter to 35-34 at the start of the fourth, but the Mules outscored the Wildcats 21-7 in the final 14 minutes to take the win.

Central Missouri jumped to a 28-0 lead last week in the process of steamrolling West Texas A&M, 55-35, and nearly duplicated the fast start against ACU. The Mules built a 21-0 lead before Wildcat fans were settled in their seats.

Czerniewski moved his team quickly down the field on its opening drive, fashioning a 7-0 lead when running back Anthony Stewart ran untouched around left end for a 9-yard touchdown with 8:33 remaining, and Aaron Jamieson added the PAT.

On ACU's ensuing drive, Wildcat quarterback Mitchell Gale threw only his third interception of the year. UCM cornerback Marion Douglas stepped in front of the pass and returned it 19 yards to the ACU 9-yard line, and one play later, Czerniewski found tight end DeMarco Cosby with a pass near the goal line, and Cosby rumbled in for another TD for the Mules, just 18 seconds after its previous scoring play.

The 14-0 lead became 21-0 when Czerniewski tossed a pass in the right flat to Stewart, and he ran 24 yards for a third TD with 2:16 left in the quarter.

ACU first got on the scoreboard following a 10-play, 63-yard drive at 10:27 of the second quarter. Gale threw a 3-yard pass to junior tight end Ben Gibbs, but a bad snap on the PAT kept the score at 21-6.

Czerniewski threw his second TD pass of the first half at 7:32 of the quarter when wide receiver Jamorris Warren caught a 15-yarder. Jamieson's PAT made the Mules' lead 28-6. He repeated that success on UCM's next drive, finding backup tight end Eric Cannon for a 20-yard TD pass and a 35-6 lead with 1:35 left.

ACU answered on the first play of its next drive when Gale threw a pass in the right flat to senior wide receiver Kendrick Johnson, who bounced off a tackle, spun around and sprinted 58 yards for a TD. Morgan Lineberry's PAT was good, cutting the UCM lead to 35-13 at 1:17.

The Wildcats got the ball right back when their defense stiffened, and a CMU punt traveled all of eight yards, giving ACU possession at the Mules' 20. Gale wasted no time in throwing a TD pass to wide receiver Raymond Radway, hitting the senior track and field star on the ensuing play for another six points. ACU's two-point conversion try was successful when Gale sprinted around right end and dove into the end zone, cutting UCM's lead to 14 points, 35-21 with 10 seconds left.

ACU continued its comeback on its first drive of the second half. Gale led his team on a nine-play march that consumed nearly 10 minutes of time and cut UCM's lead to seven, 35-28, when he found Gibbs for a 17-yard TD pass at 9:51.

The Wildcat comeback grew to 28 consecutive points when Lineberry booted a 38-yard field goal with 7:27 left in the third quarter, and another of 27 yards with 26 second left. The latter was set up when Drew Cuffee intercepted a Czerniewski pass at the ACU 41 and returned it 42 yards.

UCM recovered from the tailspin at 13:59, with Czerniewski hitting a streaking Morris over the middle, good for a 61-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was blocked by ACU's Courtney Lane, however, limiting the Mules' lead to seven, 41-34.

But Czerniewski struck again, throwing his sixth TD pass of the game to Morris with 4:53 left. Jamieson's PAT grew the UCM lead to 48-34.

ACU answered right back, with Gale throwing a 32-yard scoring pass to Gates with 2:23 remaining. Lineberry's PAT cut the Mules' lead to 48-41.

UCM restored its lead to 14 when Stewart bolted for a 42-yard TD run with 2:10 left, set up when the Mules recovered ACU's onside kick. The Wildcats' comeback ran out of gas and time, however, ending their season and hopes for a long run in the playoffs with arguably its best team in 33 years.

The Mules, who finished second in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Conference, improved to 11-2, earning a national quarterfinal game rematch Dec. 4 with Northwest Missouri State. The Bearcats rallied to beat LSC runner-up Texas A&M-Kingsville, 35-31, just minutes after ACU fell to UCM.