ABILENE, Texas – Mitchell Gale hit Darrell Cantu-Harkle on a 14-yard swing pass in the first overtime to lift Abilene Christian to a 22-16 upset victory over 13th-ranked West Alabama Saturday at Shotwell Stadium.
The win improved the Wildcats to 6-4. UWA fell to 7-3. The Tigers have a short turnaround, hosting North Alabama Thursday at Tiger Stadium with an opportunity to win the Gulf South Conference title outright.
“We played hard, but we just didn't play smart all the time,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “We went for a fake field goal that didn't work and that wasn't smart by me and we got an extra point blocked, gave up some long returns and had some turnovers. That is usually a formula to hurt you.”
Abilene Christian built a 13-0 lead and then held off a furious Tiger rally in the second half for the victory. UWA forced the game into overtime when Ryne Smith connected on a 29-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. A 63-yard field goal try by ACU's Ryan Owens on the final play of regulation was short.
Abilene Christian drove to the UWA 17 on its first possession of the game, but had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Owens to take a 3-0 lead at 9:58 in the first quarter.
UWA was then forced to punt on its first possession and Cantu-Harkless returned it 71 yards to the Tiger 9-yard line. Three plays later Charcandrick West plunged in from a yard out to put Abilene Christian up 10-0 at 5:59 in the first period. That score stood at halftime.
UWA opened the second half by driving 55 yards on just six plays to the Abilene Christian 20, but a fake field goal on fourth and two failed, leaving the Tigers to turn the ball over on downs.
Abilene Christian stretched the lead to 13-0 after three quarters on a 24-yard field goal by Owens with 3:23 left in the period.
After converting a fourth-and-1 on the first play of the fourth period and recovering its own fumble at the ACU 10 yard line a few plays later, the Tigers got on the scoreboard for the first time with 12:34 left to play when Kyle Caldwell found Malik Lofton in the front corner of the ACU end zone for the touchdown.
ACU answered on its next possession with a 41-yard field goal by Owens to extend its lead to 16-7 with 8:42 left.
The Tigers rallied back to score on a 34-yard pass from Caldwell to Chad Toocheck with 6:06 left, but the Wildcats blocked the extra point try to make it a 16-13 ACU lead. The scoring play was set up when Lofton ran for 21 yards on fourth and three to keep the drive alive.
UWA's defense rose to the occasion again, forcing an ACU punt that led to Smith's 26th straight field make.
Caldwell's fourth and six pass to Toocheck fell incomplete on UWA's overtime possession and Abilene Christian sealed the upset.
“Our kids really played hard. We just didn't play good enough to win against a good football team on the road. That's on me as the head football coach,” Hall said. “We rallied there late and then got the extra point blocked. Anytime that happens it will come back to haunt you.”
UWA outgained ACU 395 to 371. Caldwell finished the day 16-for-24 for 165 yards and the two scores. Marcus Brown had four receptions for 35 yards and Gary Johnston led the Tiger ground game with 65 yards on 12 carries.
Mitchell was 24-of-42 for Abilene Christian for 284 yards and one TD. Cantu-Harkle had nine receptions for 113 yards and the game-winning touchdown.