ACU shutout in season finale at #3 Central Arkansas
CONWAY, Arkansas - The ACU Wildcats ran into a buzzsaw Saturday afternoon in the form of the third-ranked Central Arkansas Bears, who put the wraps on an undisputed Southland Conference championship with a 34-0 win over the Wildcats at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
With the loss, the Wildcats finish their season at 2-9 overall and 2-7 in league play, while the Bears finish the regular season at 10-1 and 9-0 and in sole possession of the conference title. The FCS playoff field will be announced Sunday morning and the Bears will be in the field. They should earn a first-round bye and will probably host a second-round contest in Conway.
The Wildcats' efforts Saturday night were hampered by the loss of starting quarterback Luke Anthony, who barely practiced this week after injuring his throwing shoulder last week against Sam Houston State. He suited out for the game against UCA but didn't play. Senior Kade Munden - who has spent much of the season working at tight end and on special teams - made only his second career start, finishing the game 12 for 27 for 147 yards through the air.
ACU mustered just 172 yards of total offense against the Beas, who had 495 against the Wildcats. ACU's defense limited Sam Houston State to just 40 yards on the ground in last week's 44-35 loss, but the Bears on Saturday night rushed for 319 yards on 62 attempts. The Wildcats were limited to just six first downs, the fourth-lowest single-game total in program history and the fewest by an ACU squad since they had just four in a Nov. 1, 2003, win over Texas A&M-Commerce.
The game was played in tough weather conditions with the wind blowing 20-25 mph out of the northwest and temperatures falling into the low 50s in the first half. ACU won the toss and deferred to the second, choosing to kick off and take the wind in the first quarter. But UCA won the quarter, scoring two touchdowns into the wind - one on a 78-yard pass from Hayden Hildebrand to Brandon Cox on the second play of the game - and carrying a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.
That took the wind out of the Wildcats, who never really recovered over the final three quarters. ACU's best scoring chance came in the first quarter when they drove to the UCA 26-yard line before turing the ball over on downs. The Wildcats - who were 0 for 10 on third downs - had seven three-and-outs among their seven possessions.
Hildebrand threw for 176 yards and one score in the game, while Carlos Blackman ran for 123 yards on 20 carries, one of seven Bears to carry the ball in the game.
GAME NOTES -- Since 2001 when the Wildcats went to Conway, Ark., to take on the Bears when both program were still NCAA Division II members, the Wildcats are 0-4 in Conway and have lost those four games by a combined score of 171-42. -- The shutout of the Wildcats snaps ACU's 57-game scoring streak. The last time the Wildcats were blanked came in a 36-0 loss at West Texas A&M on Oct. 13, 2012. -- The Wildcats have now lost their season finale in three straight seasons. Their last win in the final game of the season was a 37-35 win over Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 15, 2014. -- While the Wildcats were for 0 for 10 on third-down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth down, the Bears were 10 for 18 on third downs on the night and only punted five times. The Wildcats, meanwhile, punted nine times in the game.
Courtesy ACU Athletics.