SAN ANTONIO - What the Abilene Christian Wildcats had done so well the entire year abandoned them at the worst possible time, when with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Cardinal defensive end Michael Tate strip sacked quarterback John David Baker to seal Incarnate Word’s first victory over the Wildcats Saturday at Benson Stadium, 34-31.
The Cardinals’ win was their first in five tries against the Wildcats, who won their previous meeting earlier this year during Homecoming at Shotwell Stadium, 40-6.
The Wildcats came into the game boasting a plus-19 turnover differential, but the redzone fumble by Baker as well as two untimely interceptions, led to Incarnate Word claiming one of their biggest wins in program history. The Cardinals’ victory raised their season record to 6-4 and kept them undefeated at Benson Stadium (5-0).
ACU’s loss was its second straight to drop its record to 5-5. The Wildcats will conclude their 2013 season next Saturday at Prairie View A&M with hopes of recording their sixth-consecutive winning season.
After Incarnate Word jumped out to a 21-14 halftime lead, the Wildcats charged back in the third quarter, outscoring the Cardinals 17-0 to take a 31-21 lead. However, freshman quarterback Trent Brittain refused to be rattled and led the Cardinals on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, the latter coming with 1:59 left in the game.
On ACU’s final drive, the Wildcats quickly advanced the ball to midfield thanks to a 15-yard pass to Darian Hogg accompanied by a roughing the passer penalty. Then Baker hit senior receiver Taylor Gabriel on what was thought to be a 64-yard touchdown pass with a minute left. But the officials, who first signaled defensive holding, reversed their decision and brought the ball all the way back to the Incarnate Word 24-yard line.
A Cardinal sack pushed ACU back five yards, but on the following play Baker again connected with Hogg – this time for 20 yards to get the Wildcats inside the UIW 10. Baker then rushed up to the line to spike the ball with 33 seconds remaining, setting up a second-and-goal situation.
On the final play, however, Baker was grounded by Tate and Deion Williams covered the loose ball back at the Cardinals’ 16.
Baker finished the game with 279 yards on 19-of-27 passing and tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Gabriel, who had seven catches for 83 yards to surpass Edmond “Clyde” Gates for second all-time for ACU receiving yards (2,993). The senior out of Mesquite, Texas also threw his first career passing touchdown on a trick play by the Wildcats when he found senior running back Charcandrick West streaking down the sideline for a 50-yard TD.
West’s reception with 10:50 remaining in the third quarter gave the ACU its first lead of the game at 28-21. Near the end of the quarter, kicker Nik Grau booted a 34-yard field goal to push the Wildcat lead to 31-21.
Darrell Cantu-Harkless, another senior skill position player, added to his legacy as he totaled 161 all-purpose yards and scored a rushing touchdown with 4:52 left in the first half that tied the score a second time at 14-14. UIW then marched 72 yards over 12 plays, finishing with a two-yard TD pass from Brittain to Casey Jennings that came with seven seconds remaining before halftime.
Jennings grabbed a second touchdown pass from Brittain for 11 yards near the start of the fourth quarter that trimmed ACU’s lead to 31-27. The Cardinals then had their PAT attempt blocked by junior Damon Williams.
Hogg caught three passes for 94 yards, including a 59-yarder which would have been a 79-yard TD had it not been called back because he stepped out of bounds. Demarcus Thompson also had what looked to be a TD catch wiped off the board after the referees ruled he was out-of-bounds in the corner of the endzone.
Those calls eventually proved costly as the Cardinals defense went on to shut out ACU in the fourth quarter.