ABILENE, Texas - Mitchell Gale saved his best for last.
In the final game of his brilliant ACU career, the senior quarterback from Alva, Okla., threw for 408 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats (7-4) outlasted pesky Incarnate Word, 24-12. In so doing, Gale became the all-time leading passer in program and Lone Star Conference history, finishing with 12,109 career yards - 97 more than the quarterback who played the four years before he arrived at ACU, Billy Malone. The completion that put him over the top was a 28-yard strike to sophomore DeMarcus Thompson in the third quarter.
"The thing I'm feeling more than anything is gratitude," Gale said after the game. "I'm so thankful to have been at ACU and to have had the chance to be around people like Coach (Ken) Collums who've helped me become a better football player and more important to help me grow spiritually and as a man."
Gale's record-breaking night included the first and third longest of his 97 career touchdown passes. The first, an 87-yarder to Charcandrick West early in the second quarter, was a broken play that saw Gale avoid the Cardinals' rush and heave the ball forward to West who scampered down the right sideline untouched.
The other touchdown was a bullet that junior wide receiver Darian Hogg caught on a crossing route and took down the left sideline for 80 yards.
ACU's final game in NCAA Division II and as a member of the Lone Star Conference could scarcely have started better. Wildcat freshman Travis Tarver, who didn't arrive at the stadium until shortly before the game because of a family funeral, immediately made his presence felt by recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Incarnate Word 12. But the Wildcats would only gain two yards and settle for a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Owens.
Incarnate Word (2-9) moved the ball consistently couldn't finish drives with touchdowns, settling for four Saul Meza field goals to account for all 12 of their points.
Gale's big plays overshadowed an uneven offensive performance in the first half. But after Incarnate Word cut the Wildcats' lead to 17-12 in the fourth quarter, Gale engineered an eight play, 62-yard drive that ended with West's 5-yard touchdown run. West finished with 181 all-purpose yards - 72 yards rushing and 109 yards receiving.
The entire ACU team wore red sweatbands around their ankles in honor of Rex Fleming, the 10-year-old son of ACU sports information director Lance Fleming who has battled a brain tumor for the last two years. "I wanted them when they got tired and looked down," Collums said, "to see that sweatband and think of Rex."
Information provided by ACU athletics department.
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