ABILENE – John David Baker threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, and Abilene Christian University’s defense turned back turnover-prone University of the Incarnate Word, 40-6 Saturday afternoon in Shotwell Stadium on Homecoming and Senior Day for the Wildcats.
ACU capitalized on five Cardinal turnovers – including four in the first half and a fumble by UIW on its first offensive play – to build a 20-6 lead after one quarter that grew to 30-6 by halftime. The Wildcats held Incarnate Word to 79 passing yards a week after limiting Houston Baptist University to 97 in a 69-12 win.
Abilene Christian moved to 5-3 on the season, while the Cardinals dropped to 3-4, both as new members of the Southland Conference but playing FCS independent schedules in 2013. ACU will close its season with three straight road games, starting next Saturday at FBS-member New Mexico State University. ACU’s road game next Saturday in Las Cruces at New Mexico State kicks off at 7 p.m.
UIW’s initial three turnovers came in the first quarter, beginning with its first play from scrimmage, when ACU defensive end Nick Richardson forced Cardinal runningback Junior Sessions to fumble on his team’s 21-yard line. Baker capped the short drive six plays later with a 5-yard scoring pass to Darrell Cantu-Harkless at the 11:01 mark. Freshman placekicker Nik Grau missed the PAT, breaking a string of 33-straight successful kicks.
The Cardinals bounced back on the ensuing drive when running back Broderick Reeves broke tackles raced 47 yards for a score at the 8:07 mark, although Jake Wilcox’s PAT was unsuccessful, leaving the teams knotted at 6-6.
Abilene Christian answered with an eight-play, 59-yard drive that ended when Chancandrick West scored his ninth touchdown of the season on a 5-yard run with 5:11 left in the quarter.
ACU strong safety Angel Lopez single-handedly stopped the Cardinals’ next two drives, intercepting freshman quarterback Trent Brittain’s passes, first at the Wildcat 26-yard-line and again three minutes later, giving his team the ball at the UIW 26-yard line after a 31-yard return and a UIW unsportsmanlike penalty.
Baker turned the second interception into more points for ACU, hitting junior tight end Jamie Walker over the middle for an 18-yard scoring pass on the first play of the second quarter. Grau’s successful PAT put his team up 20-6.
UIW used 6:43 of clock time on a 13-play, 61-yard drive on its next possession, but ACU’s defensive stiffened, forcing the Cardinals to turn the ball over on downs at the ACU 7-yard line with 8:07 left in the half.
Cantu-Harkless’ 42-yard run was the highlight of the Wildcats’ next drive, which was capped when Grau kicked his sixth field goal of the season, a 38-yarder with just over four minutes remaining, to put ACU up 23-6.
The turnover bug bit UIW again with 1:33 left when Jorådan Hicks fumbled an Austin Kilcullen punt deep in Cardinal territory, and Wildcat cornerback Keith Barnett recovered at the 13-yard line. A penalty pushed the ball back to the UIW 23, but Baker connected in the corner of the end zone with Gabriel on a 17-yard scoring play that built the ACU lead to 30-6 just before halftime.
Grau added a 19-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining at the end of an otherwise scoreless third quarter for both teams, increasing the Wildcat lead to 33-6.
The Cardinals’ fifth turnover of the game – a fumble recovered by linebacker Jesse Harper deep in Wildcat territory – was again capitalized on by ACU. Baker proceeded to lead the Wildcats on a 13-play, 88-yard drive, finishing it with a 6-yard TD run with 4:31 remaining. He preserved the drive on fourth down at the UIW 25, bouncing back from a sack to complete a 19-yard pass to West that set up the final scoring play. Ben Hynds’ successful PAT gave the Wildcats their final margin, 40-6.
Baker completed 20 of 31 passes for 263 yards and was sacked three times. Cantu-Harkless rushed five times for 83 yards and West added 73 yards on 15 attempts. Gabriel led Wildcat receivers with six catches for 87 yards and one score. Darian Hogg caught five passes for 72 yards. ACU outgained UIW in total offense, 433-307.
UIW was led in rushing (18 carries for 97 yards) and passing (11 of 25 for 79 yards) by Brittain. Casey Jennings caught four passes for 56 yards.