Saturday night, the second-ranked Wildcats made sure their first game there would be a memorable one as they used a Drew Cuffee 81-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play of overtime to beat Texas A&M-Commerce, 20-14.
The Wildcats -- who hadnt played a regular-season overtime game since beating Northeastern State 20-14 on Sept. 10, 2005 -- improve to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the Lone Star Conference, while the Lions fall to 0-3 and 0-2.
The Lions -- who had struggled offensively throughout the first two games and through most of the first three quarters on Saturday -- tied the game 14-14 with 32 seconds left in the game when Adam Farkes hit Taylor Fore with a 20-yard touchdown pass. Commerce players lobbied head coach Guy Morriss to go for the lead with a 2-point conversion, but he decided to go for the tie and send the game to OT.
After ACU won the toss to start overtime and start with the defense on the field, Farkas dropped back to throw on the first play. But Cuffee stepped in front of the intended receiver, tipped it up in the air, caught the ball on his right hip and then made his way down the sideline. He got a couple of key blocks to spring him around the 20-yard line, and then scored standing up.
Cuffees jaunt is made more impressive when considering that he left the game earlier with leg cramps.
"With about 40 yards left, I started cramping up again," Cuffee said. "But I got some great blocks, and was able to get into the end zone."
ACU head coach Chris Thomsen was impressed by what he saw from his sophomore cornerback.
"That was a phenomenal effort by Drew Cuffee," ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said. "He got some key blocks to spring him, and he was able to make it in there and help us get out of here with a win. We expected a battle coming, and thats exactly what we got. We saw on film that Texas A&M-Commerce had a very good defense, and their offense came to life tonight."
The Wildcats were held scoreless through the first half for the first time since that overtime win at Northeastern State, but were able to put the ball into the end zone for the first time with 9:48 to play in the third quarter when Daryl Richardson scored on a 4-yard run to make it 7-0.
That lead held up until 11:27 was left in the game when Zach Stewart was picked off for the second time in the game when Cory Whitfield picked off a Stewart pass and returned it 37 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
But ACU answered back, moving 62 yards on 10 plays to another Richardson touchdown, this time a 6-yard run to make it 14-7. The biggest play of that drive was a fourth-down pass from Stewart to Edmund Gates that kept the drive alive inside the Commerce 20-yard line. Two plays later, Richardson scored to give the Wildcats the lead.
After each team punted, the Lions got the ball back with 3:10 to play and proceeded to drive the ball 56 yards on eight plays to the Farkes-to-Fore touchdown pass that tied the game.
But Cuffee was able to pull the win out for the Wildcats with his interception return, the Wildcats second defensive score of the season. ACUs defense allowed just 182 yards of total offense and one touchdown.
"Weve got a lot of veteran players on that side of the ball, and they rose to the challenge just about every time they were asked to do that (Saturday)," Thomsen said. "Im really proud of those guys and the way they played. But Im proud of my whole team; they played with great effort tonight and came out with a big win."